Perot may hurt fellow Texan Bush, tilt their home state to Clinton

October 05, 1992|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,Staff Writer

DALLAS -- Texans make their pilgrimage to the State Fair of Texas each year to ride on the biggest Ferris wheel in the Western Hemisphere, to show off their finest in swine, and to eat deep-fried, mustard-slathered corn dogs ("corny dogs" in these parts). "Invented right here," locals boast with pride and a mouthful.

But not everything home-grown is quite so popular these days.

In the other attraction of the season, the political one, native son and newly declared presidential candidate Ross Perot appears to hold no more appeal here than anywhere else in the country where he's drawing narrow slivers of support.

In fact, passions run deep when the subject turns to Mr. Perot and his roller coaster of a campaign.

"Texans are a funny breed," says Dallas electrical contractor Ken LaMountain, strolling through the sheep and goat barn with his wife. "When a person gives his word, he's supposed to keep it. If you don't, you lose credibility real fast."

"I supported him the first time, but when he quit, that was it," says Ken Puckett of Garland, tending to his daughter's pregnant cow, Trixie, in the cattle barn. "If you can't stand the heat, you better not come on back into the kitchen."

There's little expectation that Mr. Perot will come anywhere close to winning the state's 32 electoral votes. Analysts say he's likely to garner only 6 percent to 15 percent of the vote here.

But with fellow Texan George Bush and Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton in a dead heat in the polls in this conservative state, Texas is one place where the reborn Perot candidacy, drawing even the slightest support, could make a difference.

And the re-entry of this second candidate who calls Texas his home could result in the state's going to the only non-Texan of the bunch.

After announcing his bid for the White House Thursday, Mr. Perot stayed off the campaign trail. His spokesman, Orson Swindle, said Mr. Perot spent most of the weekend at home in Dallas working on his advertising strategy with advisers.

Mr. Perot was set to re-emerge on television this morning with an interview on NBC's "Today" show.

Mr. Bush, who won easily here in 1988, must win the Lone Star State again this time around. But interviews with dozens of Texans at the State Fair suggest that much of the new Perot support, however limited, is coming largely from the president's corner.

"I was going to hang in there with Bush," says Dallas oilman Rollin Bond. "But now I think I'll go with Perot. He's better than those other two louts. He's not big and tall like LBJ was, but he's got a lot of that Texas desire and perseverance and independent spirit that we seem to have."

Fort Worth homemaker Lynn Carnes, unhappy with all her choices, says that "when it came down to it, it was going to be Bush." But now she is leaning toward Mr. Perot again: "I want to hear what he has to say."

Both say their likely Perot votes are acts of protest. Mr. Bond, for instance, says he doesn't know much more about Ross Perot other than that "he's running."

Rick Ragnell, a Dallas oral surgeon, says he started considering voting for Mr. Perot "when I saw who else was running. If Clinton wins, we'll go broke in '96. If Bush wins, we'll go broke in the year 2000. I'm considering a protest vote for that very reason."

In some ways, the home-state status of Mr. Bush and Mr. Perot is, oddly enough, a liability rather than an asset here. Familiarity, in both cases, is breeding a sort of contempt.

For one thing, the state has been hit hard by economic woes, making Mr. Bush a less-than-favorite son.

Jenny Barrett, an insurance manager from Mesquite and a Republican-turned-Clinton-supporter, has lost seven jobs in as many years because companies for which she has worked have moved or shut down. Two weeks ago, she lost yet another job. She's not sure Mr. Clinton's prescriptions will remedy her situation but says, "I've got to take that chance."

Mr. Puckett, an air-conditioning contractor and 1988 Bush supporter, also says the economy is driving his vote this year, which will probably go to the Democrat. "This summer, I'd go out to people's houses and their compressor would be out," he says. "That's $1,000. They can't afford it. They raise their windows. Something's got to give."

For his part, Mr. Perot's high profile in the state -- his billion-dollar computer empire that has employed many Texans and the educational reforms he led through the Legislature -- has cut both ways. Despite his insistence that "to know me is to love me," many people here argue that they don't like him precisely because they know him.

"I don't think Perot appeals to a lot of Texans," says Dallas lawyer David Hicks, a Texan since the age of 9. "He's not an insider in Dallas. He's not close personal friends with a lot of people here. He's isolated -- isolated behind his security guards and off-duty Dallas police officers."

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