Reform Party presidential candidate Ross Perot, angered at his exclusion from two upcoming presidential debates, singled out Bob Dole for blame Sunday and questioned the courage of the Republican nominee.
“Here’s a guy who’s supposed to be a war hero,” Perot said of Dole, who was severely wounded in World War II. “You’d think he’d be able to stand up and talk to another person. But he can’t.”
Perot, appearing on NBC-TV’s “Meet the Press,” signaled that “millions” of his followers now might be more inclined to back Democratic candidates over Republicans in races crucial to determining whether the GOP will retain control of Congress this fall.
He asserted that Dole’s resistance to his inclusion in the debates has “poisoned” the views of many swing voters toward the GOP.
“We put the Republican Party in power in the House and Senate in 1994,” Perot said. “It is going to be very, very, very difficult to get any independent voter excited about Republicans because of what … Bob Dole did.”
Speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” Perot said Dole was “the point man” in excluding the Reform Party nominee from the debates and “has been rude and arrogant in this in a way that I had never seen him act before. I guess he’s desperate.”
Perot also attacked the debate commission, saying, “The American people know nothing about the debate commission. They don’t know that it is a private corporation. They don’t know that it is privately funded. And they sure don’t know who funds it. And interesting enough, I still can’t get them to tell me, ‘Where do you get your money, fellas?”’
Perot did not win a single state running as an independent presidential candidate in 1992, but he did capture 19 percent of the vote nationally. On Sunday, he insisted that his current lackluster standing in opinion polls, hovering between 5 percent and 8 percent, could be reversed if he were included in the debates.
“I was included the last time. I’m excluded this time. And the reason is painfully obvious. They do not want to discuss the issues that will determine this country’s future. They don’t want to talk about the debt, the deficit. They don’t want to talk about setting the highest ethical standards for the White House and the Congress. They don’t want to talk about campaign finance reform more than anything else.”
The Texas billionaire reiterated that his representatives will go to court today to challenge his exclusion from the debates, scheduled for Oct. 6 in Hartford, Conn., and Oct. 16 in San Diego.
Representatives of President Clinton and Dole agreed on terms for the debates Saturday, after a recommendation from a commission of five Democrats and five Republicans to limit participants to the president and his GOP challenger.
Campaigning in northern Illinois on Sunday, Dole responded to Perot’s remarks by disclaiming responsibility for the decision on debate participants. “I’m not on the commission,” he said.
The commission’s recommendation could have been ignored, however, and it was the Dole campaign that vehemently opposed including Perot as the details were ironed out. Dole and his aides believe that one-on-one encounters with Clinton will best help the GOP nominee narrow the wide advantage the president holds in polls.
House Majority Leader Richard K. Armey, R-Texas, who appeared later on “Meet the Press,” dismissed Perot’s warning that Republican congressional races could be harmed because Dole had angered independent voters over the debate issue.
“I’m not worried about that,” Armey said. “Quite frankly, this commission made the decision and both President Clinton and Senator Dole have agreed to run with the commission’s recommendations. … If Bob Dole’s afraid of something, I’m pretty darned sure it is not, it certainly is not, Ross Perot.”
Also appearing on “Meet the Press,” Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said Clinton campaign officials had made it clear that they wanted Perot in the debates but Dole campaign officials had said their candidate would refuse to debate if Perot was included.
“The question then is do we have debates with the two of us or no debates at all, and the president, wisely, in my view, made the decisions we’ll have debates,” Dodd said.
Larry Sabato, a professor of politics at the University of Virginia, said the commission’s decision will give Clinton a “free ride” because “Perot will air most of his fire between now and the election on Dole to undermine him.”
And come Election Day, independent swing voters might cast their ballots against Republicans, he added. “Dole is the guy who kept Perot out and that makes Dole the bad buy for Perot people.”
In other campaign jousting Sunday, supporters of Dole and Clinton discussed illegal drug use - how to stop it and who might be responsible for its upsurge. Certain Senate votes by Dole to curtail the budget of the White House drug czar came under attack, as did Clinton’s televised remark from 1992 that he “wished” he had inhaled marijuana.
That remark has become a staple of a Dole ad campaign that claims it betrays an attitude on the president’s part that has contributed to an increase in drug use by children during his first term.
William J. Bennett, a Dole backer and former drug czar, said on ABC-TV’s “This Week with David Brinkley”: “I wish (Clinton) could develop the same type of animus toward the Cali (cocaine) cartel that he has toward (cigarette distributor) Philip Morris.”
Dole’s one campaign event of the day was in Grayslake, Ill., where he continued attacking Clinton’s attempt to enact health care reform, a bid that turned into a colossal blunder that helped cost Democrats control of Congress in the 1994 elections.
Dole said the president, if re-elected, may well “take another shot at a government takeover” of the nation’s $1 trillion health system.
“That was just three years ago today,” Dole said of the anniversary of Clinton’s health speech to a joint session of Congress. “So don’t forget this liberal in the White House who now talks like a moderate or a conservative or a Republican.”
“He won’t talk about it at the debates,” Dole said of the health-care plan, referring to the upcoming presidential debates. Dole stopped and smiled. “Oh, I’ll talk about it in the debate.”
Clinton, meanwhile, still was attracting the censure of gay rights activists Sunday for signing a bill denying federal recognition of same-sex marriages.
Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law early Saturday after flying home from a four-day campaign trip to six states. He signed the bill in the wee hours of the morning in hopes of minimizing news coverage.
On Sunday, about a dozen protesters greeted Clinton’s motorcade as he arrived for morning services at Washington’s Foundry United Methodist Church. They stood a block away from the church, and none approached the president.
The demonstration was among several planned in various cities by the homosexual advocacy group ACT UP.
“Bill Clinton shouldn’t be denigrating loving, committed gay relationships. He should be taking notes,” said ACT UP spokesman Steve Michael.