Reform Party nomination goes to Perot on 5 percent turnout Lamm questions irregularities in unconventional vote

Campaign 1996

August 18, 1996|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

VALLEY FORGE, Pa. -- As had been expected, Ross Perot won the presidential nomination of his nascent Reform Party yesterday, putting the mercurial Texas billionaire on the ballot this November for his second stab at the presidency.

With only a tiny portion of the Reform Party casting ballots, Perot defeated his underdog challenger, former Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm, by 65 percent to 35 percent, reported Russell J. Verney, the party's national coordinator.

"To say I'm not disappointed would be like the captain of the Titanic trying to persuade passengers they were just stopping for ice," Lamm said at a news conference after the vote was announced.

But he said he was not sorry he ran. He said the nation needs a reform movement and someone who will "talk honestly to the American public."

He said he called Perot to congratulate him but could not reach him.

The results were greeted by wild cheers from Perot supporters as they were announced at a news conference here -- in the shadow of the historic campsite where George Washington's Continental Army spent a cold, hard winter -- after an unusual weeklong voting process by Reform members.

That process is being questioned by Lamm supporters because of some irregularities.

The second part of the party's two-part convention is to take place at the convention center here this evening when Perot delivers his acceptance speech before about 1,500 members. Lamm, too, is expected to speak.

With fewer than 5 percent of the recipients of the Reform Party's 1.1 million ballots voting, Perot received 32,145 votes. Lamm received 17,121.

In a highly unconventional ballot process, the 1.1 million people across the country who had signed the party's nominating petitions or, in some states, were members of an existing third party that merged with the Reform Party were sent ballots, each one with a personal identification number.

They were able to cast their vote by mail, phone or computer through the week.

The votes were tabulated by the accounting firm Ernst & Young, which reported that 88 percent of the ballots were received by mail, 8 percent by phone and 4 percent on the Internet.

But Verney said that more than 117,000 phone calls were attempted and either not completed or deemed invalid.

Lamm and his supporters have said they have heard reports of numerous voting problems in which some party members received multiple ballots while others -- including Lamm and his daughter, Heather -- received none. The two Lamms finally received ballots only after Perot intervened.

Lamm supporter Laureen A. Oliver, chairwoman of the Independence Party-turned-Reform Party in New York, said her governing board would consider pulling Perot off the ballot in her state because they believed the Reform Party had reneged on an agreement to limit the voting to the 40,000 registered Independence Party members.

"I've got members of my party who didn't get ballots, and then I've got Democrats, Republicans, conservatives, liberals -- anybody who wanted to get a ballot -- get a ballot," said Oliver.

Responding to Oliver's charge last night, Verney said, "I haven't broken any deal." He said he was "extraordinarily proud of the process we used. Over the last 11 months we've created a political field of dreams."

Last Sunday, the two contenders, both of whom preach fiscal responsibility and deficit reduction, spoke at the first part of the party's two-part convention in Long Beach, Calif.

There had been little doubt that Perot would be the victor. The Reform Party was founded and continues to be run and funded by the tycoon and is made up largely of his fervent supporters, some of whom are paid staff.

Perot, who spent more than $60 million on his independent run for the presidency in 1992, when he won 19 percent of the vote after getting out of the race and then getting in again, has already spent $6.2 million on his effort to build a third political party.

And the Reform Party is well on its way to being on the ballot in all 50 states for this year's general election.

But Perot is unlikely to win anywhere near that same support this time. His popularity has dropped sharply in the past four years as the perception has grown that his political forays are ego-driven.

The latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll shows Perot winning only 7 percent of the vote in a three-way race with President Clinton and Republican nominee Bob Dole.

While Lamm had tapped former California Congressman Ed Zschau, a Republican, as his running mate, Perot has yet to announce his choice and he is not expected to do so tonight.

Perot reportedly asked Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio to be his running mate last week, but the seven-term lawmaker declined.

The campaign is hoping to attract a political heavyweight to avoid the 1992 misstep when Perot named Adm. James Stockdale, an earnest, heroic former Vietnam prisoner of war who was grossly miscast as a political candidate, but so far none have signed on with him. (Stockdale is a Dole delegate this year.)

Lamm has said repeatedly that he has no interest in the No. 2 spot.

In fact, there had been increasing ill will and tension between the two camps ever since Lamm declared himself a candidate last month, a day before Perot did. Lamm has complained that the process has not been fair to him.

For instance, the party refused to furnish him with a computerized list of Reform Party members, saying such a "gift" would violate federal election laws.

He was urged to run by numerous Reform Party members, including some of its state leaders, who hoped the party would transcend Perot, whose reputation has been greatly damaged since 1992, and thus gain credibility as a legitimate third party.

Perot loyalists, too, said they were glad to have the three-term Colorado governor in the race, saying his involvement would give the party more heft and give Perot more credibility when he beat Lamm for the nomination -- which they always assumed he would.

Pub Date: 8/18/96

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