Gridlock in the Dark

July 18, 1993

Ross Perot's Western tour began last weekend with a visit to Mount Rushmore. Could this mean he is thinking of running for president again? Some people think so. Unlike previous third party candidates for president, he remains popular eight months after losing the election. Polls now show him with about as much voter support as he won at the polls last year. That is in the 19-20 percent range, which was the most for a third party candidate since Theodore Roosevelt, a Rushmorian, ran as an ex-president in 1912.

Mr. Perot is often asked about 1996. He does nothing to make people believe he won't run again. Perhaps he will do it as leader of his United We Stand, America organization. But perhaps. . . . Some Republicans are beginning to think the unthinkable. Some are even thinking it out loud. Former drug czar, former education secretary and possible future presidential candidate William Bennett warned other Republicans recently, "Sooner or later you are going to have to de-legitimize [Mr. Perot], or he's going to run in your primaries."

Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole, a once and perhaps future presidential candidate, had that on his mind, too. He said, "I don't think in the Republican Party [Mr. Perot] would win primaries." Then he did a little de-legitimizing, calling Mr. Perot an "unaccountable . . . walking sound bite."

What Republicans want first, party leaders made clear at the national committee meeting Senator Dole addressed, is for Mr. Perot's voters to give them back control of the Senate; 1994 is more on their minds than 1996. Mr. Dole, himself, appealed directly to Perot voters, many of whom are also Republicans. He told them a Republican Senate would "turn off the lights" in Washington for the rest of the Clinton administration. Certainly President Clinton and many of his policies are not popular with the Perot voters. A recently released poll of 1,200 of Mr. Perot's 1992 voters showed the president with a "positive rating" of only 49 percent.

But they gave Congress only a 35 percent, and we don't believe Perot voters -- or even many George Bush voters -- want the Senate to turn off the lights. You can't end gridlock in the dark, and most voters of all persuasions want gridlock ended. The poll made that clear about the Perot voters. They want something done. The key to 1994 will be -- should be -- what gets done, not what doesn't. That will be the key to 1996, too.

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