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Democrats, Republicans Try to Convince Perot Not to Run

By Susan Baer
The Baltimore Sun

DALLAS

With the prospects of Ross Perot--The Sequel looming large, high-ranking delegations from the Clinton and Bush campaigns Monday took turns wooing the Texas billionaire and his followers in meetings here, hoping to convince them that Perot need not re-enter the presidential race.

The undeclared candidate, who has teased the electorate with his forays into the presidential arena nearly all year, said Monday that he would make his intentions known by Thursday night.

If he decides to reactivate the candidacy he suspended in mid-summer, the businessman said he would wage an "all-out" campaign in 50 states with the goal of winning the White House, not just jumbling the electoral map.

With high-ranking officials from the Bush and Clinton campaigns each telling Perot's supporters that their economic plans more closely resembled Perot's, with a north Dallas hotel full of national media, and with dawn-to-dark attention, the feisty computer tycoon appeared to be back in his element -- and setting the stage for his next act.

Having spent the earlier part of the year in a food-grinder of a presidential race, Perot presided at a White House-like podium throughout the day, flanked by Democrats and Republicans whom he called "world-class people."

With the pander-meter turned high -- and running in all directions -- Perot said that he found a lot of "commonality" between his vision and the Democrats', and a lot of "overlap" between his views and the Republicans'. But in the next breath, he took thinly veiled swipes at both Bush and Clinton.

In maintaining that he did not necessarily want to be president but would "honor the request" of his volunteers, he said, "You've never heard me say I'll do anything to win or that it's been my ambition since boyhood," references to Bush and Clinton.

With five weeks to go until Election Day and a renewed Perot candidacy capable of swinging at least a handful of crucial states, both campaigns brought out the heavy artillery to press their case before the Perot supporters.

In the morning, the Clinton campaign, represented by a nine-person delegation including campaign chairman Mickey Kantor, Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff William Crowe, financier Felix Rohatyn and former Urban League chief Vernon Jordan, had its turn at bat.

"We could not help but notice the wide area of agreement between Bill Clinton and Ross Perot," Bentsen told reporters after the Democrats' 2.5-hour session.

In the afternoon, the Bush brigade, represented by national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, campaign chairman Robert Teeter, Secretary of Housing Jack Kemp, Texas Sen. Phil Gramm and campaign adviser Mary Matalin, briefed the audience.

"Our plan is based in many ways on the same principles Mr. Perot has enunciated," Teeter told reporters. The Republicans, standing stone-faced before a roomful of press, looked decidedly unenthusiastic about their trip to Monday's Perot show.

While the state coordinators all said that they were impressed by both presentations, few, if any, appeared to be sold.

In fact, super salesmen Ross Perot seemed to have succeeded in closing more sales for himself.

"What I heard reinforced my support for Ross Perot," said New Mexico chairman John Bishop. "I look forward to him as an independent candidate and the next president."

Perot repeated that he would make his final decision only after the state coordinators who gathered here Monday went back to the supporters in their states, briefed them on the discussions and polled them on their wishes.

But such a mechanism could only have been designed with Perot's reignited campaign in mind. These state coordinators of Perot's political movement -- United We Stand, America -- traveled to Dallas at the billionaire's expense and are among his most fervent supporters. Most already had their minds made up before arriving here and, not surprisingly, they appeared unmoved even after the pair of high-powered meetings.

Perot insisted Monday that the call for his return to presidential politics came from the people, not, as many analysts and former associates have speculated, from his own ego or need to erase the image of him as a quitter.

But even after suspending his quasi-campaign last July, Perot spent millions of his own dollars -- $4 million just in August -- ensuring that the volunteers "finish it up" and place him on the ballots in all 50 states.