Perot stirs crowd in Balto. Co. Texan seeks followers, but is mum on '96 plans

June 13, 1993|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,Staff Writer

Ross Perot breezed into Maryland yesterday, charming hi followers at a rally in Catonsville but dropping no hints about whether he might run for president in 1996.

Mr. Perot, who has been barnstorming the country as if he were running for something, brought his road show to the University of Maryland Baltimore County gymnasium, where for slightly longer than an hour, he preached his folksy sermon of government reform and balanced budgets.

He whipped up enthusiasm among 2,500 of his faithful but failed to whip up on President Clinton, whom Mr. Perot recently said wasn't qualified for a job above middle management at a medium-sized company.

The Texas billionaire did not ignore the beleaguered president altogether, however. He responded to recent comments by the Clinton administration that the ever-critical Mr. Perot so craved attention that at a wedding he'd want to be the bride, at a funeral he'd want to be the corpse.

"They just don't understand us," said a grinning Mr. Perot, who added that the administration next plans on saying Mr. Perot will insist on being the lead speaker at future debates.

"If there has to be a funeral, our organization would want to be the undertaker and florist, right? And if there's going to be a wedding, we want to sell the dress to the bride and be the caterer to the reception. . . .

"And finally," he said, "if there's going to be a three-way debate in California, we don't want to be the lead speaker. We want to be the hair stylist, right?"

"Right!" the crowd thundered.

And that's how the morning went, a rally revival in which the wide-eyed crowd responded every time Mr. Perot pulled the strings.

Mr. Perot saved his harshest criticism for Congress and that elusive character known simply as "government."

He said if Congress passes the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he maintained would prompt American companies to move to Mexico because of cheap labor -- he called NAFTA "the world's biggest exit door" -- Americans should buy members of Congress bus tickets south and let them go to work for 58 cents an hour.

"I said we're going to have to pick up a shovel and clean out the barn; every day's precious," he said. "If we just fool around until '96, we're going to need a front-end loader, not a shovel."

And so, Mr. Perot said, his national organization, United We Stand, America, is focusing on next year's congressional elections, not the next presidential election. He said polls show that one in four Americans wants to join his group.

"How important are you in this?" he asked.

"You are the whole game, because you represent millions of votes. You've created something far more valuable than lobbyists' money.

"You've created a giant group of people who are fully informed on the issues, who can't be tricked with Willie Horton ads and other emotional one-minute appeals paid for by lobbyists' money."

Mr. Perot's Maryland appearance was one of six from Virginia to New Hampshire this weekend. Each is designed to bolster membership in state chapters of United We Stand, America.

Joan Vinson is Mr. Perot's coordinator in Maryland. She said the state branch is nearing its goal of signing up 20,000 members. The state office will open in Annapolis this week, she said.

The organization will not be a third political party, she said; it will not endorse candidates. But it will hold forums, educate voters and urge participation in government at all levels.

Bert Keith, interim state operations coordinator for UWSA, said the idea is not to elect Mr. Perot president.

The game plan

"That's not the game plan," he said. "The game plan is simply to get people involved so we can make sure government does what it's supposed to do." That doesn't mean people at the rally wouldn't love to see Mr. Perot move into the White House.

Helen Bartholomee, a 51-year-old school teacher from Pikesville, voted for Mr. Perot in November.

"It's the first time I've been excited about who was running for president in a long, long time," she said. "He's the first person since Lyndon Johnson who I think could do something about the domestic situation."

And Mr. Perot, nearing the end of his lengthly speech, said this was the way -- although he never said exactly how to do it.

"The budget should be balanced. The treasury should be refilled. Public debt should be reduced. And the arrogance of public officials should be controlled."

Then he looked squarely at his followers. "Do you go along with that?"

You bet they did.

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