Reform Party candidate Ross Perot appeared to buoy up Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole on Sunday by saying that “if you were limited” to choosing between Dole and President Clinton, “I think every American would pick (Dole).”
But Perot also insisted he is in the race to stay.
Dole’s campaign trumpeted the response as close to an endorsement.
“You should never let anybody be president of the United States who does not have a strong moral-ethical base,” said Perot, suggesting that Clinton does not have a strong moral center.
“He is the commander in chief of our armed forces, and he can send our sons and daughters off to fight and die, and that should be a test everybody applies,” he said on the NBC program “Meet the Press.”
And he criticized Clinton as little more than a smooth talker.
“Just because somebody makes a smooth speech and comes across in a way that you find warm and appealing, how could you consider letting that person, if you know all about the other aspects of that person and you find him to be negative, send your son or daughter into combat?” he asked.
The praise for Dole’s military record helped draw attention to what Dole and his aides believe is one of his best attributes when compared to Clinton.
But Clinton’s lack of military service didn’t hurt him 1992, when he faced another World War II hero in President George Bush. And it doesn’t appear to hurt him now.
A big reason is that the end of the Cold War has put foreign affairs and the military on the back burner.
“People don’t have it on their radar screen,” conceded Charles Black, a top adviser to Dole.
Dole and his campaign welcomed Perot’s comments, optimistically painting them as almost an endorsement. Perot last week spurned an appeal from the Dole campaign that he drop his Reform Party bid for the presidency and endorse Dole.
“I think he’s being very positive in telling the American people they have a choice, and I’m the better choice,” Dole said Sunday.
His spokesman, Nelson Warfield, said “Ross Perot came as close as he possibly could to endorsing Dole.”