Perot organization appears to be falling apart

July 20, 1992|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,Staff Writer

DALLAS -- Vietnam veteran John Minnick of Silver Spring, Md., flew to Dallas last week to talk about veterans' issues with the volunteers for Ross Perot who are scurrying to build a political movement around his name and his ideals.

But getting no satisfaction from the group of state volunteer coordinators, which had dwindled to about 30 yesterday, he threw up his hands and headed home. "I'm fed up with this," said Mr. Minnick, a public relations executive. "Unless there is some dramatic change, I don't see [this movement] happening."

Mr. Minnick arrived in Dallas as the Perot candidacy was collapsing. But when the state coordinators tried to salvage their movement, he stayed, hoping to be heard.

The coordinators, huddled in a second day of secret meetings to map a plan for a Perot-inspired national reform movement, made no headway yesterday. With little consensus and lots of contention, the organization appeared to be unraveling.

"It's going to be tough to get any kind of consensus out of this group," conceded Hawaii coordinator Orson Swindle.

Mr. Perot spent a second day cloistered in secret meetings with volunteer leaders from his collapsed campaign, telling them he would not reconsider his decision to abandon his presidential bid, despite their continued interest in drafting him.

Those in the closed session -- which Mr. Perot sneaked into and out of through back passageways -- reported that the Texas billionaire made no pledge to finance the political reform movement he's urged his followers to form. On Saturday, the group reported that Mr. Perot had, in fact, agreed to assist in bankrolling the nascent operation.

"There have been no guarantees of any funding," New Mexico coordinator John Bishop said yesterday.

Some of the volunteers question the viability of a political reform movement without Mr. Perot as an active candidate.

"The only way I see that we can accomplish what we set out to accomplish in 1992 is with Ross Perot as our candidate for president," said Ohio coordinator Cliff Arnebeck. "This idea for a broad scope is a great idea. But you can't give up the candidacy for president and have credibility in a broader scope."

He said he thought the majority of the group agreed with him, and yesterday, it appeared that plans for some sort of national movement were giving way to, at most, a coalition of state-based organizations.

"We cannot set a platform. We cannot decide on a name. We're all concerned with our own states and issues," said Alaska coordinator Donna Gilbert. "What does Alaska have in common with Hawaii or New York? To think we could now be a group of one . . . baloney! It isn't going to work, guys."

The proposed names of the movement were: Voice of the Electorate (VOTE), Americans Concerned for Tomorrow (ACT) and Vision for a New America.

Republican strategist Ed Rollins, whose departure from the Perot camp Wednesday foreshadowed its collapse a day later, said yesterday he, too, doubted the movement, being led by political neophytes, would materialize.

"My sense is you've got a lot of people out there who were participating in the political process for the first time and they enjoyed the experience up till Thursday," the former Perot co-manager said on ABC-TV's "This Week With David Brinkley."

"They did think they were going to make a difference," Mr. Rollins said. "They may get focused on congressional races or assembly races, but my sense is the big movement is going to die."

He said he doubted Mr. Perot would get back into the race but that he'd "play with" the volunteers for a while.

Mr. Rollins made clear his general disillusionment with Mr. Perot, saying that he joined the campaign believing Mr. Perot was an "agent of change" who would be "good for the process," but learned in his 45-day tenure as campaign co-manager that the businessman's "temperament was not quite right" for the presidency.

"Hundreds of thousand of Americans gave up a great deal to work in his candidacy and they tried to make a difference. I would say he probably made a half-try," Mr. Rollins said.

Mr. Rollins said that he believed Mr. Perot became disenchanted with the political process after discovering he couldn't glide to the November elections on talk show appearances and rallies. "He didn't like the scrutiny. He obviously had some tough decisions to make and I think he just realized it was going to be a very tough, long campaign -- as is every presidential campaign," Mr. Rollins said.

Although Mr. Perot was willing to spend money, the computer tycoon was more willing to spend it on grass-roots activities than advertising, Mr. Rollins said.

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