Perot's organization may be a future force ON POLITICS

JACK GERMOND & JULES WITCOVER

December 08, 1992|By JACK GERMOND & JULES WITCOVER

WASHINGTON -- Ross Perot's grass-roots organization, financed by him before and after he returned to the 1992 presidential race, will launch a massive membership drive early next month aimed at making itself self-supporting -- but still dedicated to his views and, possibly, another Perot presidential bid in 1996.

Orson Swindle, the retired Marine officer and former prisoner of war who became executive director and spokesman for the 1992 Perot campaign, says the membership effort, charging $15 a year, will be aimed at the 19 million Americans who voted for Perot "and the millions more who would have voted for him had they thought he could win."

While he believes that Perot does not now plan to run in 1996, Swindle says, "obviously anybody can figure out that if it's successful and he wants to stay involved, it's certainly a vehicle for him to use."

Perot, according to Swindle, is providing an unspecified amount of start-up money for the drive and may kick it off with a speech on nationwide television. But after that, Swindle says, the aim is for the organization, called "United We Stand, America," to pay for itself through members' dues.

Swindle says he has told Perot it is important that the organization become financially independent of him because doing so "helps dilute the perception that it's just his toy." But the membership campaign is being organized by a Perot employee in Dallas, Darcy Anderson.

It will have four regional coordinators as well as, ultimately, coordinators in all 50 states. It will build on the "United We Stand, America" organization first set up with Perot's financial and moral support after he dropped out of the presidential race in mid-July.

One purpose of the organization then was to continue the petition drive to place Perot's name on the ballot in every state, and to encourage him to change his mind about running after all. Once Perot did so, the organization threw its efforts into the campaign that won 19 percent of the popular vote on Nov. 3.

Swindle emphasizes that the membership drive is not intended to create a third political party, but rather to broaden the effort as a "citizens' lobby" with Perot as the leader to "watch what our government leaders are doing on a national basis and advocate the changes that we believe [are] necessary to bring about the corrections everybody seems to believe are needed."

Rather than a "restrictive" third party, he says, "what this group ought to do is make sure we have excellent candidates in both parties. And if we want to become a party-like force, let's go in and take over one of the two parties -- change them to make the system work as it traditionally has ... My feeling is we reach success faster if we modify the behavior of one of the parties."

While declining to speculate whether Perot might run as a Democrat or a Republican in 1996, Swindle says, "if I had to guess, I'd say he's probably more of a Democrat."

Eventually, Swindle says, the "United We Stand, America" operation will be organized by congressional district and will attempt, without endorsing, to educate members on where candidates stand on issues as a means of affecting their agendas.

Even before Perot got into the race in October, chapters in several states were holding forums for congressional candidates. In the runoff for the Georgia senatorial seat in which Democratic Sen. Wyche Fowler was beaten by Republican Paul Cloverdell, the organization mailed thousands of postcards urging voters to measure the candidates on issues of concern to the Perot movement.

Swindle, a longtime friend and admirer of Perot, acknowledges that he'd like to see "United We Stand, America" become the vehicle for another Perot bid for the White House four years from now. "I think it's very likely that if this group were to build up to some enormous numbers and activity on the part of the people involved, if he continues to stay out front and continues to show an interest, they may want him to run again."

Whether the organization continues to be funded by Perot, or becomes self-sufficient in the membership drive, the chances are either way it will be viewed as a prospective vehicle for another presidential try by him in '96.

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