Ross Perot, campaign reborn, at UMBC tomorrow Backers hope their ranks will grow

June 11, 1993|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Staff Writer

Ross Perot is headed back to Maryland this weekend. The question is why.

Is the flamboyant Texas billionaire already running for president of the United States, albeit a bit early? Or is he, as his critics believe, merely suffering from an insatiable appetite for attention?

What is clear is that the volunteers who helped him win 14 percent of the Maryland vote (and 19 percent nationally) in last year's presidential election believe his visit will boost membership in the Maryland chapter of his national organization, United We Stand, America.

Joan Vinson, the statewide coordinator for Mr. Perot, said his appearance at 10 a.m. tomorrow at the University of Maryland Baltimore County campus in Catonsville should strengthen the local organization. The event, one of six Mr. Perot has scheduled in East Coast states this weekend, is free and open to the public.

Ms. Vinson, an Anne Arundel County resident, said membership in the Maryland organization is expected to top 20,000 this year, the minimum needed to "charter" it with the national office.

By September, she said, the Maryland chapter intends to elect a slate of officers, and then schedule a fall statewide convention to pick a chairman.

She said she had no idea whether the group's folksy leader intends to make another third party bid for president.

Either way, she said, the Maryland chapter plans to get involved in the state's 1994 elections.

The organization will stage forums at which candidates can debate, she said, and it hopes to set up study groups to analyze positions that candidates take on issues. The group probably will stop short of issuing endorsements, she said.

In recent weeks, Mr. Perot has been barnstorming the nation offering his views on what is wrong with the federal government in general and with the Clinton administration in particular.

He has once again become the darling of the talk shows, star of his own prime time "infomercials" and a regular on the nightly news.

He has criticized the Democratic president's relations with the military, his economic plan, the sale of a portion of USAir to British Airways, the administration's emerging health care plan, provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement and even Mr. Clinton's seeming infatuation with Hollywood stars.

He has declared the president all but incompetent, saying at one point that Mr. Clinton was not qualified for more than a middle-management job at a medium-sized company.

In Ms. Vinson's view, President Clinton's problems have only heightened interest in Mr. Perot's organization. Ms. Vinson described Mr. Perot's message as nothing more than "an appeal for people to get involved in their government. If you don't like your government, get involved in it."

Joyce L. Terhes, the Maryland Republican Party chairman, seemed gratified that Mr. Perot's attention has turned to Mr. Clinton.

The president's problems, Ms. Terhes said, have had the effect of unifying a Republican Party that otherwise would have been in disarray so soon after losing a presidential election. But she said it is far too early to tell whether Mr. Clinton will recover his lost momentum, or whether the Republicans or Mr. Perot will benefit the most if he does not.

"Ross Perot is nobody's dummy," the GOP chief said. "He knows he has to keep the people who supported him interested and enthused. And if they don't see Republicans coming up with viable candidates in '96, and Clinton continues to shoot himself in the foot, [Mr. Perot] has to have his options ready."

Mr. Perot is also scheduled to air his opinions this weekend at forums in Northern Virginia, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Amherst and Boston, Mass.

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