DALLAS -- Ten Republican presidential candidates with divergent prospects hawked their wares yesterday before perhaps 4,000 delegates to the first national conference of Ross Perot's United We Stand, America. But if any of them made a significant connection, it was not immediately apparent.
Conservative television commentator Patrick J. Buchanan evoked the most emotional response in several hours of rhetoric -- leaving the podium to cries of "Go, Pat, go" from partisans in the crowd at the Dallas Convention Center.
But United We Stand leaders cautioned that the display of enthusiasm for Mr. Buchanan had more to do with the fact that he is not an officeholder than with any intention to support him in the Republican primaries that will choose the party nominee next spring.
"They think he's sincere and he's not a politician," said Don A. Torgeson, the organization's executive director in Illinois, "and that's something they like."
The group's delegates gave each of the candidates a friendly, perhaps even warm, response. But their skepticism about conventional politicians was reflected in the relative restraint of their reaction to Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole.
Mr. Dole used only about half his allotted 30 minutes of podium time to deliver a version of his standard campaign speech.
"Don't quote me," said a delegate from New England, "but he's just the kind of candidate that made me vote for Ross last time around."
The Republican candidates came to the conference with several objectives. They craved the news media attention turned on Dallas. And they saw the delegates as potential Republican primary voters who might go home and tell their friends about what they heard.
And, perhaps most importantly, the Republicans hope they can make themselves acceptable enough to the core of Perot admirers to help dissuade Mr. Perot from running again as an independent.
Lamar Alexander, the former governor of Tennessee and secretary of education in the Bush administration, said he had raised the question directly with the Texas billionaire. Mr. Perot got 19 percent of the vote as an independent in 1992.
Mr. Alexander told reporters that he has encouraged Mr. Perot to run -- if he runs -- as a Republican. "If you do what you've done before, we'll end up electing Clinton again," he said he told the businessman.
Mr. Alexander said he received no response from Mr. Perot. The Texas businessman has brushed aside questions about another candidacy by arguing that it is too early to consider and, in any case, irrelevant to his purpose in trying to focus national attention on the issues.
As it turned out, however, most of the candidates gave slightly revised versions of the standard campaign speech they are giving regularly on the primary campaign trail.
Mr. Alexander, for instance, presented himself as a candidate who offered Republicans the opportunity to support someone who has spent most of his life outside of Washington and has a history in business and education as well as politics. "I said to them what I say to everybody," he said.
Mr. Dole's speech was a familiar recitation of disparate material. As he does routinely, the Kansas senator talked about his experience in World War II, dealt at some length with what is happening in the Senate and argued for his long experience in government.
"I'm not perfect," he said, "but I've been tested and I've been tested and I've been tested."
Mr. Dole waved his copy of the 10th Amendment to the Constitution to demonstrate his commitment to returning power to the states and declared that "we need to rein in the federal government and make it smaller."
The one candidate who chose not to give a version of his standard speech was Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, who read a text on the dangers of nuclear proliferation.
Alan L. Keyes, the GOP candidate from Baltimore, said yesterday that Mr. Perot's staff prevented him from showing a videotape of aborted fetuses at the conference.
The key issues being used by Republicans to sort out their candidates are largely such social concerns as abortion rights.
But activists in Mr. Perot's group are focused tightly on two or three issues -- especially reform of the political system and reducing the federal deficit -- on which all the Republican candidates are essentially agreed.
Whether Mr. Perot may run again remained a central topic of discussion with delegates divided on whether he should do so. But, whatever their opinion, there seemed to be widespread doubt that he will run. As Lou Draper, a delegate from Medford, Ore., put it: "I think he wants to make a point and that's what he should do."
The potential of a Perot candidacy -- or an independent run by someone else such as Gen. Colin L. Powell -- is clear in a new round of opinion polls.
A New York Times-CBS News survey released Friday, for example, has found that 55 percent of Americans say the country needs a new party. And it showed Perot voters from 1992 particularly dissatisfied with the apparent choices for 1996.
The poll found President Clinton viewed unfavorably by 54 percent of Perot voters and favorably by only 23 percent. Among all voters the corresponding figures were 40 percent favorable, 39 percent unfavorable.