Like a menacing political god, Ross Perot tossed another thunderbolt into presidential politics Monday night by announcing the formation of a third political party that could be the vessel for the swelling ranks of independent voters who say they are fed up with the two-party system.
Appearing on “Larry King Live,” the CNN talk show where he launched his quixotic 1992 presidential bid that eventually captured 19 percent of the vote, Perot said the fractious relationship between the Republicans and Democrats finally forced the issue of a third party.
“Tonight we are going to start the process of creating a party for the independent voters,” Perot said. “It will be called the Independence Party. It will not be owned by the special interests.”
The move could dramatically reshape the 1996 presidential election, and the character of the two-party system of governing. But at this stage it is all potential.
A third party could be a launching board for a candidate with independent star quality such as Colin Powell, who has said that neither major political party really fits him. Perot said the new party would favor a candidate of Powell’s stature, but the Texas billionaire refused to offer a list of possible contenders he hopes to attract.
Perot’s announcement means an independent candidate for president could have a ready-made structure that could get on the ballot in all 50 states, but he stopped short of offering a full slate of congressional candidates. Instead, Perot said, the Independence Party would endorse one of the major party candidates for each seat in the House and Senate.
The political maverick said he did not intend to seek the presidency himself, but did not rule it out. “This is not about me running for president,” he said. “The last thing I want is for this thing to be about me.”
Perot supporters filed papers Monday in California, which has a ballot deadline of late October, under the name of Reform Party, the party’s designation in states that either already have an independent party or do not allow use of that name.
His group also will target efforts in other states with early filing deadlines, Ohio and Maine, with an eye towards registering voters and earning a place on the ballot in all 50 states.
Perot said the party would have a primary next April, with people casting ballots by secure phone lines. The party also would hold a convention and beam it by satellite to auditoriums nationwide, he said.
Despite recent surveys showing that nearly two-thirds of Americans would consider an independent candidate or party for the White House, no third party has emerged to be a decisive force in American politics since the Republican Party in 1856.
Perot predicted that not only would the Independence Party emerge as a major political force, but also that its popularity would kill off either the Democrat or Republican Party.
Perot’s action is a test of whether the information age will rewrite the nation’s longstanding political rules and Americans will embrace something fundamentally different.
But many who express disaffection also say they are not yearning for an independent party so much as they are yearning for an independent person. And Perot’s own high profile might well dilute any assertion of independence.
Could a candidate flying under Perot’s banner be seen as truly independent?
“I don’t think it helps Colin Powell at all to be close to Ross Perot,” said Linda DiVall, a Republican pollster who works for the presidential campaign of Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas. “They (voters) want to see Gen. Powell act on his own.”
Mike Murphy, chief strategist to the Republican presidential campaign of former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander added: “He’s opening up a store. Whether anybody wants to buy is another matter.”
“It is another party with a name,” said Republican consultant Eddie Mahe. “Once you start down the party route, you lose your independence. You have to take on the burden or a platform and a convention and supporters. If it’s a real party, it involves a lot of people other than the candidate.”
Although Perot did not offer his official blessing to a third-party movement during a Dallas conference in August of the group he inspired, United We Stand America, he did define a set of core issues that were impossible for either party to address adequately in a short time period.
That didn’t stop all the Republican presidential contenders from traveling to Dallas to make an appeal to Perot voters, as well as to Perot. Apparently, none of them made a sufficient impression.
Like the two major political parties, a third-party candidate or a third-party movement would have to advance an agenda. Perot offered some details of that agenda Monday.
First, he said the party would push for campaign finance and lobbying reform, such as making pensions for the president and Congress more in line with private industry. He said the party would seek a complete ban of gifts and trips for lawmakers.
At the United We Stand confer ence, it was difficult to discern a coherent ideology among Perot’s followers, other than support for reforming lobbying and campaign financing and reducing the deficit.