With late bump in the polls, Perot likely to stick around Mini-surge could ensure political future for him and for Reform Party

Campaign 1996

November 01, 1996|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

PHILADELPHIA -- Just when it seemed he was about to head quietly into the electoral sunset -- after four years of on-again, off-again presidential efforts -- Ross Perot has sparked a last-minute bump that may be enough to give the Texas billionaire yet another political life.

It is not quite a Perot surge. Not even a boomlet. And it is not likely to get the Reform Party candidate anywhere near a victory next week. He does not lead in any state and thus, at the moment, has no prospects for a single electoral vote.

But by moving into low double digits in some polls for the first time this campaign season, the two-time presidential candidate is likely to secure at least some credibility, and a political future, for him and his Reform Party.

His mini-surge of up to 4 percentage points in the past few days has afforded Perot more attention as he closes his campaign with a flurry of rallies around the country, and has even raised some anxious eyebrows in the Dole and Clinton camps.

"He can't win," Bob Dole said in appealing to Perot supporters in Florida yesterday. "I can beat one candidate. I can't beat two."

Perot's slight advance seems to be fueled by a combination of factors: a ninth-inning TV ad blitz in which he is spending the bulk of the $29 million he received in federal funds; voter disillusionment with the major party candidates; and two recent events that cast a bright spotlight on the third-party candidate -- his exclusion from the presidential debates and Dole's appeal to Perot to drop out of the race and endorse Dole.

In a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released Wednesday, Perot jumped from 7 percentage points to 11 percentage points. A Los Angeles Times poll this week put his support at 12 percent.

In another survey, by the Hotline political digest, Perot's favorability rating rose from 22 percent at the beginning of October to 32 percent last week; his negative rating, in turn, declined from 64 percent at the start of the month to 50 percent last week.

Perot is not yet close to the 19 percent he won in his 1992 independent presidential bid, from which he emerged with sizable political muscle. Unlikely to emerge as strong this time, he may at least be spared a humiliating finish at 5 or 6 percent, where he has languished for most of the campaign, barely ahead of Ralph Nader, the Green Party candidate.

And Perot may perform well enough to qualify again for federal money in a future presidential race, although he will likely fall shy of the 25 percent needed to receive as much as the major parties do.

Still, a double-digit finale to his race "will encourage Perot to stick around," says Benjamin Ginsberg, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for the Study of American Government. "And since he has the resources to do so, I'm sure we'll have Perot to kick around for another four years."

At a rally at the University of Pennsylvania on Wednesday night, attended by about 2,000 people, Perot said his Election Day victory would amount to "the mother of all constitutional revolutions," and could be achieved if people voted their conscience.

Jetting from state to state in the homestretch of the campaign, he has been holding one or two rallies every day, usually on college campuses, where he has a ready-made audience, though little or no coverage by the television networks.

He has continued his blistering attack on President Clinton's ethics, warning of a "second Watergate" that could preoccupy the nation for two years. On Wednesday night, he challenged Clinton to join him on the hour of prime-time TV he bought on ABC on election eve to answer the "criminal and ethical charges pending against him and his associates." The president declined the offer.

Although Perot is attracting a smattering of local and national news media, he is not accorded the attention and intense scrutiny of a serious candidate, as he was four years ago, when he joined Clinton and George Bush in the presidential debates. The kind of remark that would cause a major stir if uttered by

Clinton or Dole, sounding all too much like an ethnic slur, goes virtually unnoted when coming from Perot's mouth.

dTC Railing against questionable fund-raising among Asian-Americans by John Huang, a former Commerce Department official, Perot said: "Mr. Huang is still out there hard at work for the Democrats. Wouldn't you like to have someone named O'Reilly out there hard at work for you? So far, we haven't found an American name."

But for all of Perot's hammering on the Democrats and the president, conversations with those who attended Perot's rally and say they now might vote for him suggest that the billionaire's new support is siphoning off votes from both Dole and Clinton.

Anne Boardman, a 28-year-old Republican who is a University of Pennsylvania nursing student, was planning to support Dole until she saw Perot's half-hour infomercial on TV last week. Now she is leaning toward him.

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