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Throwing Their Own Parties Long-Shot Presidential Candidates Threaten To Split The Vote

Mon., March 25, 1996

Consumer advocate Ralph Nader says he’s running for president and if that hurts President Clinton, “he deserves it.”

Commentator Pat Buchanan says that if Sen. Bob Dole doesn’t heed his wishes, “I don’t see how we can beat Bill Clinton.”

And then there’s Texas billionaire Ross Perot, looking toward a Labor Day convention of his new Reform Party which could become a nightmare for both the Clinton and Dole camps.

Perot repeatedly has said his party is seeking the ablest candidate it can find. Perot refers to this as yet wholly fictional character as “George Washington II.”

But if such a candidate fails to materialize by September, Perot said he reluctantly will don the mantle of leadership of the new party.

However, there are as yet no nominating procedures, and it’s difficult to discern how an outsider could persuade Perot’s acolytes to nominate someone other than the Dallas billionaire if he decides to run.

A recent poll indicates Perot would draw votes almost equally from Democrat Clinton and Republican Dole.

A Gallup Poll conducted last week for USA Today and CNN showed Clinton beating Dole, 54 percent to 42 percent, in a two-way matchup. With Perot stirred into the stew, the results were Clinton, 46 percent; Dole, 35 percent; and Perot, 16 percent, indicating Perot would drain 8 points from Clinton’s support and 7 points from Dole’s.

In a close race, even a latecomer such as Nader could capture a small but key sector of votes that could change the outcome.

Nader, appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” insisted Sunday there is little difference between Clinton and Dole. The two parties are “tweedledum tweedledee Republican-Democrats which are increasingly essentially a party of, by and for big business.”

Nader, 62, is running unopposed as the Green Party candidate in Tuesday’s California primary, assuring him a spot on the ballot in November. Democrats are worried that Nader could siphon off enough votes to give Dole California’s electoral votes and the election.

White House chief of staff Leon Panetta told CNN’s “Late Edition” that Nader’s candidacy “basically harms rather than helps the issues he says he cares about.”

Dole, campaigning in California, joked Saturday night that “I want to put in a plug for Ralph Nader and I hope he does very well - maybe 10, 12, 13 percent.”

During a speech at the Richard M. Nixon Library and Birthplace, Dole noted that all of his major GOP rivals except Buchanan had endorsed him after dropping out of the race. “We’re down to two of us, and I would hope that Pat Buchanan would find it in his heart - as the good Republican I know he is - to join forces and close ranks and bring this party together and reach out to more and more people,” said Dole.

Buchanan, a conservative who shares the liberal Nader’s opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement and the world trade pact known as GATT, said Sunday “all the options are open” concerning his political future, although he hopes to support the Republican Party in November. He appeared on NBC.

Buchanan, shunned by many in the Republican mainstream, has hinted that he might run as a third-party candidate.

But he said he hopes to avoid that. “If you move in that direction, what you are saying, in effect, is goodbye forever to the Republican Party; it is irredeemable and you’d be working for its defeat. And I think the heart and soul of the Republican Party are solid and good.”

But Buchanan warned that his support hinges on his populist message being heard at the Republican National Convention in San Diego. “We intend to be treated with the respect that we deserve, I think, representing 3 million or 4 million people.”

However, speaking in Orlando, Fla., House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., said Buchanan will not play a significant role at the Republican convention this summer.

“It’s sort of like asking a last-place team in the major leagues whether they approve of the Atlanta Braves winning the World Series last year,” he said. “Bob Dole will be the Republican nominee.”

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