DALLAS -- Ross Perot may have lost some of his novelty, but none of his pull.
That giant sucking sound you hear is the sound of presidential campaign jets swooshing to Dallas for this weekend's roundup of politicians meeting Mr. Perot and his United We Stand America partisans.
It's an event conceived, orchestrated and marketed by Mr. Perot, and all 10 Republican presidential candidates plan to attend. Jesse Jackson and congressional leaders including House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., will be there, and President Clinton has dispatched a committee "to be available to the organization," his press secretary said.
What's the draw? "Read my lips," replies Mr. Perot. "It's the votes."
Candidates have not forgotten his impact on the 1992 presidential election -- he received 20 percent of the vote -- and can read current polls showing that interest in a third political party, now at 57 percent (including 55 percent of both Republicans and Democrats), continues to grow.
The target for the Republican and Democratic politicians is the angry, fed-up-with-government-as-it-is Perotnistas who are key to victory in next year's presidential campaign.
Republicans hope to keep Mr. Perot himself out of the race. Most polls show that he hurts Republican candidates more than he hurts Mr. Clinton. According to a recent poll by the Times Mirror Center for the Public and the Press, twice as many of the Perot voters were Republicans as Democrats (31 percent to 16 percent; the other 48 percent were independents). In matchups, pollsters found that Mr. Clinton wins in three-way races that include Mr. Perot, but trails in most two-way races.
GOP National Chairman Haley Barbour said, "We've made plain the Republican strategy is to reach out to the nearly 20 million people who voted for Ross Perot."
Yesterday, Mr. Clinton added his pitch. He invited Mr. Perot to join a political reform commission he and Mr. Gingrich pledged to create, then added: "The things that Ross Perot and Bill Clinton advocated in '92 had a lot of overlap, and we have made significant progress in implementing 80 percent of the things that Ross Perot campaigned for in 1992. A lot of the things that we haven't done are because of obstruction in Congress, and I mention only two: the line item veto and political reform."
The 8,000 United We Stand enthusiasts expected to attend have goals of their own. They have scheduled three days of meetings, including workshops on topics ranging from "Social Security Reform" to "New Political Force: Party and Other Options" aimed at "Preparing Our Country for the 21st Century."
A subplot this weekend is the effort by Perot partisans to persuade the 65-year-old millionaire to seek the presidency himself. He says he won't declare his intentions this weekend. "This weekend has nothing to do with me," he said. "I'm a bit player."
United We Stand America remains a "nonpartisan educational organization committed to government reform and economic reform" and is likely to remain so, since becoming a full-fledged political party would subject it to Federal Election Committee review of all of its fund-raising and spending.