Perot makes it official: He's back in race Challenger blames Bush, Clinton for not hitting issues

October 02, 1992|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,Staff Writer Karen Hosler and John Fairhall of the Washington Bureau contributed to this article.

DALLAS -- After an eight-month flirtation with the American people, on-again, off-again presidential contender Ross Perot said yesterday that his candidacy was on again.

Making his official declaration one month before Election Day and 11 weeks after bowing out of the race, the Texas billionaire said that he was now accepting the request of his volunteers to run because the two major political parties hadn't effectively faced the issues.

At a crowded news conference in a north Dallas hotel, carried live on network television yesterday, Mr. Perot apologized to his once-commanding, and now dwindling, army of supporters for stepping aside last July, calling it a mistake.

"I know I hurt many of you," he said, reading from prepared remarks. "I thought it was the right thing to do. I thought that both political parties would address the problems that face the nation. We gave them a chance. They didn't do it."

Standing with his wife, Margot, by his side and, behind him, his family and his running mate, retired Adm. James Stockdale, Mr. Perot touched on the same themes he sounded in his earlier campaign days -- gridlock in Washington, rebuilding the job base, reducing the national debt -- but gave no details.

He dodged questions about whether he would participate in the expected presidential debates. But Orson Swindle, head of Mr. Perot's political movement, United We Stand, America, said he had "no doubt" the newly declared candidate would participate.

Bush and Clinton campaign representatives met for a second day yesterday in Washington to discuss the debates. Neither side would comment on the talks that began Wednesday night.

Mr. Perot gave little detail about the kind of campaign he intends to run in the next 33 days, except to say it would be "unconventional" and involve television ads.

"Got to make a living," he said, ending the press conference. "Got to pay for ads."

It appears he's been planning for an 11th-hour saturation bombing of the airwaves for some time. About 20 TV spots, one of them a five-minute biographical sketch of the Texan, and a half-dozen radio spots are ready to go. And this past week, Dallas communications consultant and Perot friend Murphy Martin started negotiating with the networks about buying half-hour blocks in prime time, perhaps as soon as this Sunday.

It's also likely that Mr. Perot will stick to friendly audiences and avoid as much as possible news conferences such as yesterday's. In keeping with his dislike of the national press, Mr. Perot ducked out of his appearance yesterday after reading his remarks and introducing his running mate and only returned to answer questions after the roomful of reporters protested.

After several questions related to his economic proposal, the exasperated candidate said, "Folks, I'm here today to have a positive good time. Everything here is the usual hostile, negative yelling and screaming."

In Perot Part II, the candidate is unlikely to gain the kind of momentum he did when he first turned heads last winter with his straight talk about the country's economic woes and his "can do" personality.

A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released yesterday shows that 66 percent of those surveyed have an unfavorable opinion of the Texas businessman, more than three times the number who view him favorably, and ironically, twice as many as held negative feelings about him just after he suspended his campaign in July.

In the same poll, support for Mr. Perot, which for a time last spring surpassed that for George Bush and Bill Clinton, had dwindled to 7 percent.

Even so, a Perot candidacy could greatly unsettle the political landscape, especially if he enters the debates, which appears likely, and even swing such important states as Texas and, thus, the entire election.

The Bush campaign was rejoicing last night at Mr. Perot's return to the contest because it introduces a new element of volatility in a race the president seemed almost sure to lose and it has the potential to knock Mr. Clinton off balance.

0$ "It helps us because voters will

now take a whole new look at the race," said Charles Black, a senior adviser to the Bush campaign. "It changes the dynamics."

But Mr. Clinton said he does not see the race any differently than he did before.

"I think my fight is with George Bush," Mr. Clinton said. Although Mr. Perot said that he was reactivating his candidacy because the "volunteers," many of whom are on his payroll, requested it, it appears Mr. Perot has been setting the stage for his re-entry almost since he bowed out.

He has spent more than $16 million on his pursuit of the presidency, more than $7 million of that after he said he'd be sitting the election out.

After a brief hibernation following his mid-July withdrawal -- during which magazines and newspapers called him "a quitter" and "a wimp" -- he emerged with his economic plan-turned-book, hit the talk show circuit again and started talking loudly about the failings of the two major party candidates.

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