The Political Fray
The 1992 Run For The Presidency
Privately, Perot was not an admirer of fellow Texan George Bush, who was elected President in 1988. He was adamantly opposed to American involvement in the Gulf War and urged senators to vote against the war resolution in the fall of 1990. By the late summer of 1991, with Bush still riding high in the polls in the afterglow of the successful outcome of Operation Desert Storm, Perot began to consider a run for the presidency. Perot did polling, contacted political experts and started to lay the groundwork for a national campaign.
In what would become frequent appearances over the next four years, Perot used the medium of CNN's "Larry King Live!" on February 20, 1992 to communicate for the first time his intentions to run if his supporters succeeded in getting his name on all 50 state ballots. With the Democrats dickering between two candidates with major public flaws, former Senator Paul Tsongas and Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, Perot's poll numbers rose rapidly.
On March 30, Perot named retired Navy Vice Admiral James Stockdale, an Annapolis graduate, a former POW and a lecturer at the Hoover Institute at Stanford University, his provisional Vice Presidential running mate. By April, 1992 he was clearly competitive with both President Bush and the presumptive Democratic nominee, Clinton. In several national polls, Perot was found to be in a statistical dead heat with both Bush and Clinton.
Perot hired Republican Ed Rollins and Democrat Hamilton Jordan, two veteran political consultants who had worked at high levels in national campaigns. But Perot began to stumble in mid-summer. Appearing on "Larry King" in late June, he accused the Republicans of conducting a "dirty tricks campaign" against him. In a speech to the NAACP, Perot referred to the audience as "your people" and was castigated into an apology.
More critical articles began to appear in the national press in June and July, probing Perot's past and his volatile, driving personality. Paul Richter wrote in the Los Angeles Times: "Does the blustery Texan's country charm conceal a harsh, inflexible side? Has he sometimes played too rough and ruthlessly with those who opposed him in business and public life? Most of all, does he have such a taste for snooping and conspiracy that he cannot be entrusted with the federal government's vast investigative and law enforcement apparatus?"
The Democratic National Convention in New York was considered a grand success for Clinton and his new running mate, Senator Al Gore. Perot, his campaign slipping in the polls and plagued with infighting, announced on the final day of the convention he had decided to withdraw his bid for the presidency, based on a "revitalized" Democratic Party. Perot's supporters continued the drive to place his name on the ballot in all 50 states, despite his stated intention that he had decided not to run. On September 18, 1992, Perot qualified for the Arizona ballot, and became eligible to run in all 50 states.
With the election less than six weeks away, Perot announced his decision to re-enter the presidential race at a Dallas news conference on October 1. By many accounts, he acquitted himself well in the three debates with Bush and Clinton. His Vice-Presidential choice, Admiral Stockdale, fared less well in his single debate with Senator Gore and Vice President Dan Quayle. Having trouble with his hearing aid, Stockdale uttered the oft-repeated and much lampooned statement of the debate: "Who am I? And why am I here?"
Perot campaigned in only 16 states but spent an estimated $65.4 million of his own money in his start-stop-start campaign. He ended his quest for the presidency dancing with his wife Margot on a stage in Dallas. The music was the Patsy Cline song, "Crazy." When election results were tallied on the evening of November 3, Perot failed to carry a single state. (He finished second in both Utah and Maine.) The Guide to U.S. Elections lists Perot's overall vote total as 19,741,657, or 18.9% of the total popular vote. It was the strongest showing by a third party candidate since Theodore Roosevelt ran on the Bull Moose Party ticket in 1912. It was unclear, however, how Perot would use his new-found electoral power.
United We Stand, Anti-NAFTA And The Republican Revolution
In early 1993, Perot transformed his party, "United We Stand, America," to a grass-roots, "citizens' watchdog group." Its main purpose for the year was to convince the Democratic congress and President Clinton that the deficit ought to be cut by reducing government spending, not by raising taxes.
Perot also led the charge against Senate ratification of the North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA), designed to reduce trade barriers with Mexico and Canada. Perot stepped up his media campaign against NAFTA with his catchy "giant sucking sound" quip about American jobs being pulled to Mexico. Perot also authored a book (with economist Pat Choate), "Save Your Job, Save Our Country: Why NAFTA Must Be Stopped Now!" On November 9, 1993 Perot debated Vice President Gore on "Larry King Live" on the merits of the treaty. According to most accounts Perot was soundly out-debated by the vice president. The U.S. Senate went on to approve NAFTA by a wide margin on November 20.
In 1994, dissatisfied with the Clinton Administration and the Democratic Congress, Perot urged voters to "send a message" to the federal government by electing Republican majorities in the House and the Senate. Prevented from officially endorsing any candidate because it might jeopardize United We Stand, America's tax status, Perot encouraged UWSA members to support various candidates who were sympathetic to his political positions and sense of government. Perot made no secret of his desire to elect George Nethercutt, a Washington Republican who was running against Democratic House Speaker Tom Foley. Perot also made known his preference for Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison, who was running to retain her Senate seat from Texas.
As Newt Gingrich's "revolution" raged in 1995, Perot seemed to shy away from the political limelight, debating whether he ought to take the lead in forming a third political party. Perot convened a conference (referred to by many as Perot's "cattle call") of several thousand members of UWSA in Dallas in August 1995, to address this issue.
Birth Of The Reform Party
Almost as if paying homage to a political king, all the main Republican presidential hopefuls (with the exception of Steve Forbes who had not yet entered the race), Senior White House Adviser Thomas "Mac" McClarty, (President Clinton was invited but declined) and other important political figures (such as Senator Sam Nunn, former Senator and University of Oklahoma President David Boren and Jesse Jackson) addressed the conference. On September 25, 1995, Perot announced on CNN that he would encourage the formation of a third party.
With limited time remaining, the new Reform Party did not obtain enough signatures to qualify for several state primary ballots. The Reform Party then announced that it would not compete in any presidential primaries in 1996, but would concentrate on getting on state ballots for the general election.
On March 19, 1996, Perot raised the possibility of another bid for the presidency. He told San Antonio radio station WOAI if he were nominated by the Reform Party, "I would give it everything I have." Perot held the advantage of personal wealth, plus a June 13 FEC ruling allowing him to receive $30 million in federal matching funds if he won the Reform Party nomination. The FEC has not yet ruled whether another Reform party presidential candidate would be eligible for the same amount of matching funds.
On June 20, the Reform Party announced that it would be holding a two-part convention. Members planned to meet in Long Beach, California on August 11 and in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania on August 18. These dates serve as bookends to the Republican National Convention which will be held in San Diego from August 12-15. The Long Beach convention will provide candidates with an opportunity "to present their ideas." In the week following the Long Beach conventions, Reform Party members will vote via mail, phone and the internet. The party will then reconvene a week later on August 18 in Valley Forge. It will then nominate a candidate for president based on the tabulations of an independent accounting of the votes. The winning candidate will deliver an acceptance speech during prime media time.
In preparation for the Long Beach convention, ballots were sent out in early July to over 1 million Reform Party members. The ballots asked voters to choose the presidential nominee of the Reform Party. Ross Perot and former Colorado Governor Dick Lamm are referenced in the text of the ballot, but a blank space is left for party members to write in their choice for President. Any candidate receiving 10% or more of the vote will be eligible to address the Long Beach convention.
Defying seemingly formidable odds, former Democratic Colorado Governor Richard Lamm, called a news conference in Denver on July 9 to declare he intended to seek the presidential nomination of the Reform Party. The night following Governor Lamm's announcement, July 10, Perot once again appeared on "Larry King Live" and declared he was "uniquely qualified" to lead the Reform Party and will run for president if the party nominates him.
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