Perot's October Offensive

October 27, 1992

Ross Perot's post-debate surge in the polls puts a final bizarre twist on a presidential campaign that has torn up the rule book. At this stage, the Texas billionaire should be settling down into single digits like most independent candidates of yesteryear. Instead, he is taking votes from an increasingly nervous Bill Clinton while blasting away at George Bush, who nevertheless seems to be the chief beneficiary of the Perot comeback.

Mr. Perot's charge that a Republican "dirty tricks" operation to smear his daughter caused his temporary withdrawal from the race last summer has yet to register in the ratings. While his supporters may find this a satisfactory explanation for his two-month drop-out, we consider it further evidence that Mr. Perot is highly susceptible to conspiracy theories -- particularly if they apply to himself or to causes he adopts. He has admitted he has no proof for this and other charges.

When such paranoia is combined with authoritarian habits, you have the portrait of man who could be a highly unstable president. This newspaper has praised Mr. Perot's forthrightness in advocating sacrifice and fiscal austerity as remedies for the quadrupling of the national debt in the past dozen years. But we also find his personal characteristics highly unsettling.

That said, there is no denying that the Texan represents a new phenomenon in American politics. His two biggest assets are money and populism, an unusual combination. With his huge fortune, Mr. Perot is spending twice as much as either of the two major-party candidates in a TV ad campaign that will culminate in an election-eve appearance on all three networks. With his ability to sling around one-liners and down-home talk, he has been able to capitalize on his wealth to become a folk hero for voters fed up with politics as usual.

For Governor Clinton, Mr. Perot's late blooming has diminished his prospects for a big popular-vote majority that could be turned into a mandate. Instead, he is slipping dangerously close to the 40 percent mark while President Bush continues to draw about one-third of the vote. Mr. Bush's increasingly effective attacks on the Arkansas governor as a flip-flopper plus the Perot rise to the 20 percent mark add a huge element of uncertainty to next Tuesday's election.

Now almost anything is possible. While Mr. Clinton remains a strong favorite, Mr. Bush could squeak through in a tight three-man race. Even the prospect of a Perot victory is no longer unthinkable. If this election has proved anything, it is that voters are angry, dissatisfied -- and volatile.

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