Already favored in Senate race, Texas Republican gets blessing by Perot

June 04, 1993|By Jack W. Germond | Jack W. Germond,Staff Writer

DALLAS -- The strange Senate election campaign here is coming to a bizarre close, with independent Ross Perot delivering a de facto endorsement to a Republican candidate already heavily favored to win by a comfortable margin.

It was the first time Mr. Perot has interceded directly in a Senate or congressional election since he polled 19 percent of the vote as an independent presidential candidate last year. And the Texas billionaire chose an opportunity that seemed to represent a minimal political risk.

With fewer than 20 percent of Texas voters expected to cast ballots tomorrow, Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison apparently holds a lead of 10 to 15 percentage points over Sen. Bob Krueger, the Democrat appointed in January to replace Lloyd Bentsen, who was named Treasury secretary.

Mr. Perot's support took the form of an announcement here that his political organization, United We Stand, America, had polled its Texas members and found 84 percent favoring Ms. Hutchison over Mr. Krueger. Bill Walker, the state director of the Perot organization, said one-third of those polled by postcard responded, but he declined to say how many members were involved -- or even whether the number was in the hundreds or the thousands.

With Mr. Perot smiling and uncharacteristically silent in the first row at a news conference, Mr. Walker balked at using the word "endorsement" because, he said, it might jeopardize the tax status of the organization. So he limited himself to informing Ms. Hutchison that she had "the overwhelming support" of the organization's members.

Icing on cake

The Republican candidate replied that she was "very pleased and honored to have this endorsement" and thought it could be "very significant" in increasing the turnout in the runoff tomorrow.

As a practical matter, the blessing of Mr. Perot, however described, seemed to be only additional icing on the cake. The most recent published poll here showed Ms. Hutchison leading by 19 percentage points, although nightly tracking polls made for both campaigns were finding a smaller margin -- ranging from 10 to 15 percentage points -- in the past few days.

Ms. Hutchison established herself as the clear favorite in the first balloting May 1, in which she ran slightly ahead of Mr. Krueger -- each had 29 percent of the vote -- even though she had two relatively prominent rivals, Reps. Jack Fields and Joe L. Barton, competing for Republican votes in the field of 24 candidates from both parties.

Mr. Krueger, embarrassed by running second as the incumbent, has tried a variety of tacks in the five-week runoff campaign, none of which has got him anywhere.

Early in the runoff, he tried to turn his reputation as a dreadfully dull campaigner into an asset, mocking himself by appearing on a television commercial as an Arnold Schwarzenegger, complete with sunglasses and leather jacket, saying "Hasta la vista, baby."

But that approach fell flat.

Then Mr. Krueger tried to replicate the success of another Democratic senator, Harris Wofford of Pennsylvania, who won a special election in 1991 by emphasizing health care. But Mr. Krueger had only a limited plan to offer, principally price controls on prescription drugs, and that strategy didn't take, either.

In the final week, the Krueger campaign has been hammering at Ms. Hutchison on an ethics issue, accusing her of promising a job to a rival in return for an endorsement in the 1990 state treasurer's election -- "a spasm of spurious charges," according to Ms. Hutchison's press secretary, David Beckwith. But Democratic professionals here agree with Karl Rove, a leading adviser to Ms. Hutchison, that the charges have had little impact "coming from a position that Krueger does, where you have so little credibility."

The Krueger effort was compromised from the moment he was chosen by Gov. Ann W. Richards after several more promising Democratic candidates -- including state auditor John Sharp, former Lt. Gov. William Hobby and Henry G. Cisneros, the former San Antonio mayor and current housing secretary -- declined to run. Mr. Krueger already had a reputation earned in two previous tries for the Senate in 1978 and 1984 as an extremely weak stump performer, a one-time English professor at Duke University who couldn't stop himself from quoting Shakespeare to audiences of good ol' boys in Texas.

Mr. Krueger also has had an awkward time handling his connections to President Clinton. He aligned himself against the Clinton budget as a way of expressing his opposition to energy taxes but supported the stimulus-jobs bill, thus exposing himself to allegations from Ms. Hutchison that he supported increases in the deficit.

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