THINGS HAVE been eerily quiet on the Ross Perot front lately. But while the pesky Mr. Perot appears to have receded from public view, don't be misled by what looks like the big snooze.
For starters, permutations of Perot '92 continue to crop up. A legitimate third party has been founded by Mr. Perot's backers, albeit not one centered around him. It's called the Patriot Party, and it organized at a national convention in April in Arlington, Va.
And while Mr. Perot has been pretty much out-of-sight, out-of-mind since falling into disfavor with his North American Free Trade Agreement debate performance, that doesn't mean we've heard the last of him or that angry mob of voters who coalesced around him in 1992.
Mr. Perot's group, United We Stand, America, claims that it affected special elections for Congress in May in Kentucky and Oklahoma. In those races, it publicized which candidates (both Republicans) supported the party's key issues -- term limits, a balanced-budget constitutional amendment, a 10-percent congressional pay cut and the "A to Z" spending-cuts bill.
In both cases, the UWSA-backed candidate won.
But the Patriot Party, which was formed by dissident Perotists and others upset by Mr. Perot's unwillingness to field third-party candidates, actually is running some candidates for state and federal office this fall. Its convention drew 110 delegates from 23 states, but Pennsylvania is where the party appears best established. Its national chairman is Nicholas R. Sabatine of Pennsylvania, and Patriot candidates are running in Pennsylvania for U.S. Senate, House, governor and lieutenant governor.
According to the party's literature, its formation is the "beginning of the institutionalization of the Perot Movement, as the themes sounded by the candidacy of Ross Perot have been adopted by a political organization which will have the ability to act directly upon them in the political arena." At the same time, party organizers said they have stepped out of the "shadow of Ross Perot" and that his name was seldom mentioned during the convention.
Meanwhile, Perot is still expected to try to make a re-emergence on the health care issue. He reportedly favors a more modest approach to reform than President Clinton and one that would retain the traditional American system of private medicine.
Whether Perot and UWSA can have any real impact on health-care legislation before it goes to the floors of Congress is questionable, although there's the possibility he could launch a national campaign against "socialized medicine" in the fall, if the eventual bill is not to his liking.
And if you thought you'd heard the last of that squeaky, twangy voice, consider this: Mr. Perot may host a weekly radio talk show beginning in the fall. Reports that he's made a deal with Tribune Radio Networks to begin the show Oct. 1 are said to be premature, but he has cut a demo tape.
Carolyn Barta is op-ed editor for the Dallas Morning News.