LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Ross Perot launches his second bid for the presidency today at the first of an unorthodox two-part convention of his fledgling Reform Party, a gathering that is likely to be more a coronation of the Texas billionaire than a political race.
Former Colorado Gov. Richard D. Lamm, until recently a ex-Democrat, is challenging Perot for the Reform Party's nomination, though the tycoon created the party and continues to finance and run it.
Perot is a far less potent political force than he was four years ago, when, after spending more than $60 million of his own money to run as an independent, he won 19 percent of the vote.
But, in a party heavy with Perot loyalists, some of whom are on his payroll, the Texas tycoon is all but certain to be the presidential nominee.
But that won't be signed and sealed until next week. After today's proceedings, in which both Perot and Lamm will deliver 50-minute speeches, the party's members will vote, by phone, computer or mail. The results will be announced, Academy Awards style, at the second part of the convention, which is to take place next Sunday in Valley Forge, Pa.
Virtual bookends to the GOP convention, the Reform Party proceedings are sure to pale in comparison with the Republicans' high-gloss, high-tech extravaganza beginning tomorrow night in nearby San Diego.
There will be no balloon drop here. And only about 1,500 people are expected to file into the Long Beach Convention Center for the three-hour event that will be covered live by CNN and C-SPAN.
Along with speeches by the two candidates, who are likely to sound similar themes, such as balancing the budget, reining in federal entitlements and reforming campaign finance laws, this first half of the convention will feature a video about the Reform Party and taped segments of man-in-the-street interviews.
Lamm, who decided to run for the Reform Party nomination last (( month -- prompting Perot to announce his candidacy less than two days later -- has said he believes it's time for the deficit-minded party to detach itself from its founder, whose popularity has nose-dived in the past four years, and pass the torch to him.
At a news conference in San Diego yesterday morning, Lamm expressed anger about the nominating process, saying that he and Perot were not competing on a level playing field and that Perot had reneged on every assurance he had given him when Lamm was deciding whether to enter the race.
"I got into this race, but only after very hard-headed negotiations," Lamm said. "I got a series of agreements. None of those agreements have been lived up to. Not one."
For instance, he said, Perot has denied him access to the mailing list of Reform Party members. And this week, Perot sent out a mass mailing to the 1.1 million party members urging them to "cast an informed vote for your presidential candidate," but with only Perot's picture on the postcard.
Lamm said he was assured twice -- by Perot and Reform Party national coordinator Russ Verney -- that they would not use party money for such a mass mailing. He expressed such dismay at the process that he refused to say if he would vote for Perot in the general election.
Perot spokesman Sharon Holman denies "absolutely" that Lamm had any such agreement, or even any discussions, with either Perot or Verney about mass mailings.
And she said the party could not provide Lamm with the mailing list because it would constitute a "gift" of considerable value and would violate federal election laws.
She noted that at today's convention, a representative of the Ernst & Young accounting firm would discuss the balloting and the "integrity" of the voting process.
Lamm, who has chosen former Republican Rep. Ed Zschau of California as his running mate, requested debates with Perot. But Perot, who has not yet named a vice-presidential nominee, declined.
In a round of mail-in voting earlier this summer, to determine the party's nominees, only 4.9 percent of those receiving ballots responded. Perot earned more than 60 percent of the vote, Lamm only 28 percent.
Still, Lamm is hoping he can convince Reform Party members that he would be the more credible standard bearer for the nascent party, especially in light of the growing perception that Perot's efforts are largely ego-driven.
In a recent Time/CNN poll, 66 percent of those surveyed said they thought Perot was forming the Reform Party mainly to build a platform for himself, while 21 percent said they thought he genuinely wanted to form a third political party.
And while Perot was a significant factor in the 1992 race, and brought the issue of the deficit into the spotlight, he is not expected to attract nearly as much of the vote this time around if his name is on the ballot in November.
Pub Date: 8/11/96