Aw, Shucks, Y'all Want Me?
By Laurence I.Barrett/Washington
(TIME, March 18) -- There's good news for anybody worried that the Dole rebound will mean a dull presidential race. Though he hasn't made up his mind, Ross Perot is leaning toward taking another run at it. Once again, he sees an opportunity and a rationale. Budget balancing, term limits and the reform of Medicare and Social Security are all stalled in Congress or neglected, so far, as campaign issues. So Perot told the Washington Post last week that while he would prefer to stay in private life, "I cannot live with myself knowing what these problems are and seeing the people in government not facing these problems."
As he did four years ago, when he got 19% of the vote, Perot could make chaos theory the best predictor of November's outcomes. A new TIME/CNN poll indicates that in a three-way race held now, Perot would get 14% of the vote, Clinton 46% and Dole 33%. Perot's presence would draw more votes from Dole (7 points) than from Clinton (3 points). Even so, White House strategists are worried about a Candidate Perot who aims most of his fire, as he did in 1992, at the incumbent President.
Given the progress of this year's Republican primaries, it's easy to see why Perot would be tempted to move. Buchanan talks like him, bashing NAFTA and GATT, while Forbes spends like him, powering his campaign with his own plentiful cash. And both of them claim the status of political outsider that was crucial to Perot's strength four years ago. For a man with the Texas billionaire's robust self-regard, it can't be much fun to watch stand-ins play the role he wrote for himself.
In particular, the collapse of Buchanan's prospects leaves an opening for Perot to collect some of Pat Buchanan's radically unhappy constituents with their concerns about wage stagnation and job security. But first these voters have to find Perot's Reform Party. For now it is guaranteed a ballot spot in just four states: California, North Dakota, Utah and South Carolina. In another half a dozen states, independent parties already on the ballot, most of them spin-offs from the '92 Perot campaign, are expected to merge with the Reform Party. And Perot lieutenants are pressing petition drives elsewhere. The party is likely to appear on a total of about three dozen state ballots.
Perot says he hopes that the party's nominee will be a fresh face. High on his wish list are David Boren of Oklahoma and Lowell Weicker of Connecticut, both of whom served as Governor and Senator; former Missouri Senator John Danforth; and retiring Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia. But anyone the party chooses will face spending limits, unless it is Perot, who by law can spend all he pleases on his own candidacy. That may be enough to decide who gets the Reform Party nod when it holds its convention in late summer. Don't be surprised if it's a scrappy little guy with a Texas accent.
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