WASHINGTON -- Ross Perot took to his favorite forum yesterday, talk television, with a new twist to his on-again, off-again designs on the White House.
The Texas businessman said he might want to run for president, but not because he actually wants to be president. Instead, he said, re-entering the race would make it easier to buy television time from the networks for commercials pushing his prescription for the ailing economy.
"Interestingly enough, I'm trapped," Mr. Perot said on NBC's "Today" program. "They won't sell it to me unless I declare as a candidate. So I may be the first guy in history that had to declare he was a candidate so he could buy TV time."
On July 16, Mr. Perot abruptly dropped out of the race, and nothing he said yesterday contradicted that earlier announcement. But he has continued to tease interviewers and the public about his intentions, and he kept up this familiar routine yesterday morning and evening on the "MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour" on PBS and on ABC's "Nightline."
At the same time, Arizona became the 50th state to submit his name for the November ballot, a development that coupled with his continued respectable showing in recent polls, could make Mr. Perot more of a factor in the campaign.
He could demand that he be included in presidential debates because he appears to meet the threshold of the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates: that a candidate's name be on the ballot in a majority of states and have a substantial standing in the polls.
Mr. Perot said his decision to revive a full-fledged campaign would depend on whether President Bush or Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton presents an economic plan he deems responsible. But he put the burden on supporters to "make that decision eventually" if he should run.
While it is, as usual, not clear what Mr. Perot will do, neither is it clear what a Perot candidacy would mean for either major party.
Fourteen percent of voters say they would favor Mr. Perot if his name appears in their state, according to a New York Times/CBS News Poll taken last week. The poll found that he would draw equally from both parties, with 10 percent of Mr. Bush's supporters saying they would vote for Mr. Perot, and about 12 percent of Mr. Clinton's.
But a looming question is whether Mr. Perot left his many original supporters with such a feeling of betrayal that they might not vote in November for him or anyone else.
In a Times/CBS News Poll taken last June after the California primary, his popularity was at its peak. He was virtually tied with Mr. Bush, with the backing of 30 percent of the voters to Mr. Bush's 33 percent, and Mr. Clinton had 24 percent.
In the current poll, Mr. Perot has something he did not have then: negative ratings about twice as high as his positive ones. Twenty-one percent of voters have a favorable view of Mr. Perot but 39 percent have an unfavorable view.