With just $6,000 and a “hard-choices” slogan, former Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm on Tuesday began a long-shot drive for the presidential nomination of Ross Perot’s fledgling Reform Party.
The lifelong Democrat framed his uphill campaign as an outsider’s wake-up call to the nation, declaring, “I begin this campaign with only one promise, and that’s to present the truth and, in some cases, the hard truth, and to trust you to make the right choices.”
His decision was sure to muddy the race between President Clinton and Republican Bob Dole, and it threatened a showdown with Perot himself, who has left his candidacy for the Reform Party nomination an open question.
At a packed news conference on the University of Denver campus where he teaches a course dubbed “Hard Choices,” Lamm said he would campaign on a platform of restoring fiscal sanity to Washington by drastically curbing popular entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security.
“America has to ask itself not what it wants, but what it can afford. … The New Deal, in my mind, has become a raw deal for my children,” Lamm said. He faulted Democrats and Republicans alike for what he said were cowardly decisions to paper over the nation’s problem and leave the bills to future generations.
With all the hurdles facing this former law professor little known outside of Colorado, the Clinton and Dole camps professed nonchalance about his candidacy.
“If Dick Lamm getting into this race focuses the debate on the important issues facing Americans then we welcome it,” said Clinton-Gore spokesman Joe Lockhart.
Dole spokesman Nelson Warfield’s take was that “if two Democrats are in the race, it’s probably going to help the one Republican.”
Republican pollster Linda DiVall said it was too early to tell, given Lamm’s minuscule national profile. She predicted that as Lamm gains exposure, his “gruff, candid, straight-forward approach is one that voters will embrace.”
It’s his message - bent on tipping sacred cows - that could trip him, DiVall said.
Lamm called it “a no-B.S. agenda.” Lamm, who left the Colorado statehouse in 1986 after three terms, wants to gradually privatize Social Security, raise the retirement age to 70 and reduce annual cost-of-living adjustments. He would deny both Social Security and Medicare benefits to wealthy retirees. He would also scale back veterans’ benefits and military pensions.