Furor over Perot seems to hurt him in polls Clinton appears to be beneficiary

October 28, 1992|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Ross Perot's campaign tried to quiet the furor over the independent candidate's unsubstantiated charges of Republican dirty tricks yesterday amid signs that the Texan's surge in the polls was leveling off.

Although a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll and an ABC News poll released last night showed no substantial change in numbers, surveys in Wisconsin and Michigan conducted Monday night showed some movement away from the Dallas billionaire, with Gov. Bill Clinton the beneficiary.

And Mr. Perot, who Sunday blamed his midsummer withdrawal from the presidential race on an unsubstantiated GOP smear campaign against his daughter, found questions about his character, temperament and appetite for conspiracy theories once again occupying the political spotlight.

On NBC's "Today" show yesterday morning, President Bush described Mr. Perot's allegations as "crazy" and "strange," echoing remarks made by White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater on Monday calling Mr. Perot a "paranoid person with delusions."

Officials at Mr. Perot's Dallas headquarters tried to limit whatever damage had been done, saying the matter was now "yesterday's news" and trying to swat away continued questions about the allegations and the Bush campaign's reaction to them.

"We're going to get back on track and focus on the issues," Perot spokeswoman Sharon Holman said at a press conference yesterday morning.

But confronted with questions about the feisty candidate's temperament and suitability for the presidency -- heightened by his angry storming of a press conference Monday during which he told reporters, "I don't have to prove anything to you people" -- she defended his actions.

"Slick politicians who have been in this business for years and years and years might have reacted differently than Mr. Perot did yesterday," Ms. Holman said.

She would not to respond to any of the Bush campaign's reactions, but said, "I've never seen Mr. Fitzwater so excited. They had an opportunity to talk about something other than the economy. Our message is the economy and the deficit . . . and that's what we're going to get back to."

But the only issue the campaign spokeswoman got back to yesterday was a schedule of the candidate's TV appearances and half-hour commercials, Mr. Perot's apparent campaign vehicle of choice. And ironically, the only issue the recent spate of TV "infomercials" has addressed is Mr. Perot's character and business savvy.

For his part, the independent candidate stayed completely out of sight yesterday -- except for a late-night repeat of one of his soft-focus 30-minute TV ads, "The Ross Perot Nobody Knows."

Campaign aides said Mr. Perot will attend a rally in Denver tonight, his second campaign trip since becoming a declared candidate earlier this month. But far more frequent than personal appearances are the million dollar media buys.

Another 30-minute TV spot airs tonight at 11:30 p.m. on CBS. And the independent candidate has purchased a half-hour on ABC and one hour on NBC for Sunday night. All three networks are to broadcast 30-minute segments Monday night, election eve.

If Mr. Perot has continued to aim his fire at Mr. Bush and the GOP -- as he did in the first round of his candidacy -- his aide Orson Swindle joined Perot running mate Vice Admiral James B. Stockdale yesterday in an attack on the Democratic candidate.

Mr. Swindle, a former Vietnam POW, said he agreed with remarks made by Mr. Stockdale that Mr. Clinton and others who protested the Vietnam war only served to prolong the war and the war prisoners' ordeals.

"We lived through it and suffered for it," Mr. Swindle said. "Judging from too many conversations with our North Vietnamese captors, they were extraordinarily encouraged by the protesters. That is a fact."

Although he said he held no personal animosity toward Mr. Clinton, who participated in anti-war efforts as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, he said, "I just wouldn't want him president."

Mr. Stockdale, held prisoner for seven years with Mr. Swindle, was more critical of Mr. Clinton and his fellow anti-war protesters in an interview published in yesterday's edition of The Idaho Statesman in Boise.

"Those comrades of mine that died -- the extra 10, 15, 20,000 -- that blood is on your hands, you war protesters," Mr. Stockdale told the Idaho newspaper. "You strung it out. You didn't stop it a minute.

"Every time in prison, we would hear that they had one of these big galas of the sort that Clinton was arranging here and there in the world. 'Huh,' we'd say, 'Another year in this place. We're not going to get out of here until we bomb Hanoi.' And they couldn't do that until they beat that opposition down."

Mr. Stockdale, whose campaign agenda consists of meeting with editorial boards, argued that the Democrat's activities as a young man raised questions about his fitness to serve as commander-in-chief.

He suggested that if Mr. Clinton had to send forces into war, Americans could refuse service by citing his anti-war actions and avoidance of service.

Mickey Kantor, the Clinton campaign chief, called the Stockdale/Swindle charges "silly" on CNN yesterday. "There were hundreds of thousands of Americans of every age who opposed that war and protested. Bill Clinton certainly didn't cause the war to go on," he said.

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