Perot again, Perot again, Perot again Another bid for president: Establishment politicians in both parties dread Texan.

April 03, 1996

ROSS PEROT is to politics what the hot stove is to baseball. In the long dark winter, devotees of the national game endure by gathering around the figurative hot stove to talks statistics and trades. Now that Bob Dole has locked up the Republican nomination and excitement ebbs until the national conventions in August, political aficionados can count on Mr. Perot for an endless supply of speculation.

Just as the hot stove league is followed by the real thing (note the goings-on at Oriole Park yesterday), so the political hiatus imposed by a front-loaded primary schedule will end next fall with another three-way race for the presidency. Count on it. Ross is back!

This time the twangy Texan is running not as an independent candidate but as the near-certain nominee of his very own creation -- the Reform Party. He has the billions needed to get on the ballot in all 50 states and if Americans have learned anything about Mr. Perot it is that he will be around. He opts for obscurity only when the established political parties are engaged in self-immolation, as witness the Washington brawls that twice shut down the government and thwarted expectations for a balanced budget agreement. It is a measure of Mr. Perot's astuteness that he knows when others are making his points for him.

For Bill Clinton Democrats and Bob Dole Republicans, the tantalizing question is who hurts the most from a Perot candidacy. The received wisdom has been that Mr. Dole is chief sufferer. But lately, in the great hot stove tradition, statistics have been probed and prodded to come up with a contrary conclusion.

One poll in ever-crucial California suggests that Mr. Perot takes eight percentage points away from the president and only seven from his challenger. This still leaves Mr. Clinton handsomely ahead, but that is scant reassurance for Democratic pessimists. They know that the anti-incumbent vote this time works against rather than for them. They know that the GOP is well set up to capture an Electoral College majority that overturns a prospective Democratic plurality in the popular vote.

Establishment politicians in both parties still hope that Mr. Perot's share of the vote will dwindle to single digits. They want their duopoly restored. But one obscure statistic (somewhat like the number of steals from second to third) spells trouble. It shows that while Mr. Perot had only 7 percent of the vote when he reentered the race four years ago, by election day he had 19 percent. That's something to chew on till the conventions begin.

Pub Date: 4/03/96

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