DALLAS -- From the moment Ross Perot dropped out of the presidential race in mid-July, he discussed coming back with an "October surprise," said two former Perot coordinators.
They said Mr. Perot talked behind closed doors with 47 state coordinators about the advantages of letting George Bush and Bill Clinton beat each other up, and then coming in as the fresh face in the campaign a few weeks before the November election.
"Anybody who believes I quit may be in for an October surprise," an attendee, Cliff Arnebeck, quoted Mr. Perot as saying during a Dallas meeting two days after he withdrew from the race.
Clay Mulford, Mr. Perot's general counsel, denied the former volunteers' account of the July meeting. "This is completely crazy," he said, calling Mr. Arnebeck "unreliable and dishonest."
A Columbus, Ohio, lawyer, and one of the Ohio coordinators for Mr. Perot, Mr. Arnebeck also said that Mr. Perot told the coordinators that he was unhappy about a wave of critical stories about his business practices and style.
"He [Perot] basically suggested that the Republicans were doing the opposition research on him and that he would bring all that to a grinding halt by dropping out," Mr. Arnebeck recalled.
Donna Gilbert, the state coordinator for Alaska, confirmed Mr. Arnebeck's account of the meeting. She said she made a motion that Mr. Perot re-enter the race immediately. It passed unanimously with each of the nearly 50 state representatives signing their names on a blackboard, she said.
Mr. Perot and his top aides were apparently not pleased. They huddled briefly, she recalled, and then came back in the room to say that Mr. Perot would not get back in "at this time."
A short time later, Ms. Gilbert said, she was replaced as state coordinator by the Perot people, who told others she "was not a team player."
One other attendee at the July meeting, current Pennsylvania coordinator David Kirby, said he had no recollection of Mr. Perot making the "October surprise" comment.
Mr. Perot's actions since mid-July have suggested a silent campaign to re-enter the race. He has spent millions to get his name on all 50 ballots. He has kept a national organization and replaced some volunteers with paid staffers, even while letting go high-profile political consultants Ed Rollins and Hamilton Jordan.