Perot Leaves Himself An Out On Presidential Campaign His Party Won’t Run Candidate If ‘George Washington Ii’ Runs

With his new Reform Party pushing hard to establish itself in six more states before Jan. 1, Ross Perot held out the possibility on Sunday - and the challenge - that the party would not run its own presidential candidate next year if either the Democrats or Republicans nominated “George Washington II.”

The new party, he said, was interested only in bringing the American electorate together, not further dividing it, and therefore would swing its support behind another party’s candidate so long as that candidate met Reform Party standards.

In any case, Perot went on, he did not intend to be a candidate again himself, though as always he did not flatly rule out that possibility.

“We have one standard - what’s in the best interest of our country,” he said in an appearance on NBC news’s “Meet the Press.”

Then he laid out in the greatest detail yet the ways he and his supporters might use their political clout in 1996, emphasizing the swing-vote approach in both the presidential and congressional contests.

He pointedly warned that federal budget impasses would only strengthen the Reformist hand.

“Crazy antics,” he said of the Congress-White House gridlock this last week.

By taking a power-brokering approach to 1996, Perot and his supporters could avoid what surely would be a difficult, if not impossible, search for a Reform Party candidate with a real chance of winning the presidency.

In a close Democrat-Republican contest, they just might be able to crown the victor and extract a political price in return.

Perot captured almost 20 percent of the vote with his independent presidential bid in 1992, drawing equally from the two other major candidates. Then in 1994, Perot supporters swung Republican and were instrumental in electing Republican majorities in both houses of Congress.

Now his new party is driving to achieve ballot position in all 50 states by next fall’s election, unhappy at this point with both Republicans and Democrats.

It is an achievement that seems increasingly possible, given Perot’s heavy financial backing and the fact that polls indicate most Americans favor formation of a third party as a way to invigorate the country’s political system.

The party, initially known as the Independence Party, has just finished a successful drive to win a place on the ballot here in California, the earliest, toughest and most important petitioning test. Today, just in time to meet the petitioning deadline, the second state will be added when Perot travels to Ohio to turn in the 33,463 citizen signatures required to get on the ballot there.

In his national television appearance, Perot suggested, tongue only slightly in cheek, that his new party could be politically assuaged and would “go away” only by the second coming of George Washington.

“Let’s assume either the Democrats or Republicans come up with George Washington II,” he said. “And let’s assume we cannot match that candidate in terms of quality and integrity and leadership. Then we will be the swing vote to make sure that candidate gets elected. We would announce that and promote it aggressively, all through the fall.”

Earlier this fall, in announcing formation of the new party, Perot said it would not have the time or money to nominate its own candidates for Congress in 1996. Instead, he said, the party would swing its support to whichever candidates embraced its demands for a balanced budget and the reining in of powerful special interests.

What about rumors of a second Perot presidential candidacy, even though polls show most voters now do not favor one?

“This is not about me,” he insisted.

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