Bush, Clinton aides woo Perot But non-candidate is as coy as ever about intentions

September 29, 1992|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,Staff Writer

DALLAS -- With the prospects of Ross Perot, The Sequel, looming large, high-ranking delegations from the Clinton and Bush campaigns yesterday took turns wooing the Texas billionaire and his followers in meetings here, hoping to convince them that Mr. Perot need not re-enter the presidential race.

The undeclared candidate, who's teased the electorate with his forays into the presidential arena nearly all year, said yesterday he would make his intentions known by Thursday night.

If he decides to reactivate the candidacy he suspended in mid-summer, the businessman said he'd wage an "all-out" campaign in 50 states with the goal of winning the White House, not just jumbling the electoral map.

With high-ranking officials from the Bush and Clinton campaigns each telling Mr. Perot's supporters that their economic plans more closely resembled that of the billionaire Texan and with dawn-to-dark attention, the computer tycoon appeared to be back in his element -- and setting the stage for his next act.

But yesterday, in a day that began for Mr. Perot with an appearance on NBC's "Today" show and ended with a return to his favorite venue, CNN's "Larry King Live," the production looked like theater of the absurd.

On the King talk show, Mr. Perot advertised an 800 number for people to call if they wanted him to jump back in. He also said he would participate in the presidential debates -- should he decide to run. He then introduced his family and fielded a phone call from CBS newsman Mike Wallace.

Asked by the "60 Minutes" reporter why he preferred the talk show format as opposed to the more serious TV interview shows, Mr. Perot said he adores "the fingertip feel you get" from talking to the caller and said he's thinking about "The Larry King Show" Thursday night for his announcement.

Equally filled with spectacle and oddity was the day of meetings and press conferences, with Mr. Perot presiding at a White House-like podium through out the day, flanked by high-level Democrats and Republicans.

Having spent the earlier part of the year in a meat-grinder of a presidential race with these officials, Mr. Perot managed to spin yesterday's gatherings into mutual admiration societies.

With the pander-meter turned high -- and running in all directions -- Mr. Perot said he found a lot of "commonality" between his vision and that of the Democrats, and a lot of "overlap" between his views and those of the Republicans. But in the next breath, he took thinly veiled swipes at both President Bush and Gov. Bill Clinton.

In maintaining that he didn't necessarily want to be president but would "honor the request" of his volunteers, he said: "You've never heard me say I'll do anything to win or that it's been my ambition since boyhood," references to the presidential ambitions of Mr. Bush and Mr. Clinton.

Since bowing out of the race in July, Mr. Perot has plummeted in public favor. An ABC News/Washington Post poll released yesterday gave him 14 percent of the vote in a three-way race, compared to 44 percent for Mr. Clinton and 39 percent for Mr. Bush.

With five weeks to go until Election Day and a renewed Perot candidacy capable of swinging at least a handful of crucial states, both campaigns brought out the heavy artillery to press their case before the Perot supporters.

In the morning, the Clinton campaign, represented by a nine-person delegation, had its turn at bat.

Among its luminaries were campaign chairman Mickey Kantor, Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff William Crowe, financier Felix Rohatyn and former Urban League chief Vernon Jordan.

"We could not help but notice the wide area of agreement between Bill Clinton and Ross Perot," Mr. Bentsen told reporters after the Democrats' 2 1/2 -hour session.

In the afternoon, the Bush brigade briefed the Perot audience, led by National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, campaign jTC chairman Robert Teeter, Housing Secretary Jack Kemp, Texas Sen. Phil Gramm and campaign adviser Mary Matalin.

"Our plan is based in many ways on the same principles Mr. Perot has enunciated," Mr. Teeter told reporters. The Republicans, standing stone-faced before a room full of reporters, looked decidedly unenthusiastic about their trip to yesterday's Perot show.

While the state coordinators all said they were impressed by both presentations, few, if any, appeared to be sold.

In fact, super-salesmen Ross Perot seemed to have succeeded in closing more sales for himself.

"What I heard reinforced my support for Ross Perot, " said John Bishop, the chairman of the Perot New Mexico campaign. "I look forward to him as an independent candidate and the next president."

Mr. Perot repeated that he would make his final decision only after the state coordinators, who gathered here yesterday, went back to the supporters in their states, briefed them on the discussions and polled them on their wishes.

But such a mechanism could only have been designed with Mr. Perot's re-ignited campaign in mind.

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