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Perot Ends Campaign with a Dance and a Song

By Michael Isikoff
The Washington Post


Only a few days ago, Ross Perot had predicted a last-minute surprise, and Monday he delivered. "I found the theme song for our campaign," Perot told supporters here halfway into his standard stump speech. "And here it comes."

With that cue, a Dixieland band hired to warm up the crowd suddenly started playing. "We're crazy," crooned the band leader, improvising on the famous Patsy Cline song "Crazy." Perot signaled to his youngest daughter Katherine and, as his supporters roared with laughter and applause, led her dancing about the stage.

It was, in short, not your usual election eve political rally. The crowd was disappointingly small, only about 4,000 in Dallas' 19,000-capacity Reunion Arena. But after spending $60 million of his own money on an often strange and unconventional quest for the presidency, Perot Monday was clearly determined to have a good time.

After finishing his 45-minute speech and predicting he would "landslide this thing" to victory, Perot danced again. He sang, belting out the words to "America the Beautiful." He shouted requests to the band. Embracing with relish attacks leveled by the White House, Perot shouted: "We're all crazy again now! ... Don't worry folks. We got buses lined up outside to take you back to the insane asylum after all this is over!"

Perot also continued to press his criticisms of President Bush and Bill Clinton. Monday, Clinton became simply "the chicken man" -- a reference to the Arkansas governor's efforts to develop his state's poultry industry. "If we can agree that the two biggest problems that face our country are managing what used to be your money and putting America back to work, then the question is, is the chicken man the best qualified man?" Perot asked as the crowd laughed.

"When you talk about rebuilding America ... I'll give it to you straight, folks, you can't do it with Third World minimum-wage jobs."

The Dallas rally capped a three-day cross-country barnstorming tour that was Perot's only foray into traditional campaigning since he got back into the race a month ago. And for the most part, it seemed to lift his spirits. Large, enthusiastic crowds showed up to hear him at arenas in Tampa, Fla., Kansas City, Mo., Long Beach and Santa Clara, Calif.

But the campaign swing also betrayed some of the same pitfalls that have conspired to bedevil his candidacy. Ever since he dropped out the race last July, disappointing millions of his supporters, Perot has cut his ties to most of his closest advisers and has surrounded himself with aides who have little or no political experience.

Monday's sparse turnout suggested, at the least, disorganization and inadequate advance work. With no buses chartered to bring people to the event, Perot was forced to give his final speech to row upon row of empty seats.

But his supporters at the rally were excited and insisted time and again to reporters that polls showing Perot finishing third were wrong.

"The enthusiasm in Texas has never waned," said Jim Serur, state director of the Perot campaign here. "We believe there's a large silent vote out there -- people who say quietly, I'm going to vote for Perot, but I don't want anybody to know about it. A lot of people are afraid they'd be judged extremists."

But throughout the tour, there was also a wistful mood among some of his supporters. Some acknowledged that had it not been for Perot's acknowledged mistakes -- his decision to drop out in the summer or his recent unsubstantiated allegations of Republican "dirty tricks" -- their candidate might be more competitive in the voting Tuesday.

Jack Gargan, a retired Tampa businessman who launched a draft Perot for president more than a year ago, said before the Tampa rally that he still believes Perot can pull out a "stunning upset."

But had Perot handled his campaign differently, "He could have been waltzing into office," Gargan said. "But you can't turn the clock back."