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Perot Is Poised to Announce His Candidacy : Politics: Texas billionaire says statement will come ‘at the optimum time.’ He is already planning a convention of his supporters.

TIMES WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF

Ross Perot, dropping all question of whether he intends to run for President, said in an interview he will officially announce as an independent candidate “at the optimum time” and fully expects to be on the ballots of all 50 states

The Texas billionaire--who is already planning a convention of his supporters--said in a telephone interview Monday that millions of volunteers are already working on his campaign and thousands have offered to work in any states where obtaining ballot position may be difficult.

“The volunteers are everything, money is nothing,” said Perot, who has vowed to spend $100 million or “whatever it takes” of his own money to wage a presidential campaign.

Perot, who leads both President Bush and Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, in a new CNN/Time magazine poll, sounded ebullient about his chances of being elected President and dismissed questions about his ability as a political neophyte to cope with the ways of Washington.

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Asked how he responds to questions about whether a President who is not a member of a major party could govern, Perot said: “My first response is, can it get any worse? We already have gridlock in Washington. I have read the Constitution. I know the Congress is an equal branch. That’s something the present President hasn’t figured out.

“I absolutely will appoint top people of both parties to my Cabinet, and I will meet day after day with the leadership of Congress and suggest that we work together and not just spring plans on one another,” he said.

Perot pointed to his record in pushing education reform and drug programs through the Texas Legislature as evidence of his ability to get along with a legislative body.

“That’s the way I operate,” he said. “I’ve suddenly become autocratic to some people. Columnists who haven’t met me say I’m autocratic. They haven’t produced anybody who said I am. Nobody said until eight weeks ago that I was autocratic.”

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Recently, after failing to provide inquiring journalists with specific answers to questions about some major political issues, Perot announced he would withdraw from the media limelight, return to Dallas and study policy matters for about 60 days. But over the weekend--much to the surprise of the press--he suddenly began appearing on network television and making himself available to journalists again.

“I’m not the most predictable guy in the world,” declared Perot, obviously enjoying his politicking. “The press has gone crazy. I was on the cover of Time (magazine) today, and I was on (NBC-TV’s) “Today” show this morning. I’ve been on C-SPAN, and I was interviewed by an Austin (Tex.) newspaper. I was all over the news.”

Laughing loudly, he said: “I changed my mind, that’s all. This is a beautiful, first-time experience for me.”

As for his positions on issues, he said journalists’ attempts to press him have prompted “an angry roar from the volunteers.”

“They say they don’t care about detailed plans,” Perot said, “they’re interested in principles.”

At least for the time being, Perot prefers to focus on the phenomenon of his own candidacy.

“I’ve got several million volunteers already, the numbers are incredible, and it’s fascinating,” he said. “Florida turned in their signatures (for ballot position.) . . . They had to do it in 30 days and needed 60,000 signatures. They got two or three times that number.

“I’ve never been to Florida. I’ve never met a Florida volunteer. The Florida chairman called me today and said: ‘Ross, I want to let you know, we turned in the signatures today. Tomorrow we’re going to work on the next phase--precinct organization.’ ”

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In California, he said, volunteers already have “multiples” over the 135,000 signatures needed to put him on the ballot and “are going for a million.”

“I’m optimistic we’ll be on all the states’ ballots,” declared Perot, who initially said he would not run unless he was listed on ballots everywhere in the nation but more recently indicated this was not an absolute prerequisite.

Perot said that since volunteers finished gathering the petitions needed to put him on the ballot in Texas and several other states, “literally thousands of them have volunteered to go into other states if there were anywhere we needed help, but we don’t see a state that needs help.”

Some observers have speculated that Perot might announce his candidacy on June 27, his 62nd birthday, but he said: “I won’t do it then. Too many people are saying I will. We’ll announce at the optimum time.”

Because the Democratic convention will not be held until July and the Republican convention will be in August, he said “there’s no reason for me to rush to make an announcement.”

His own convention will be quite different from those held by the two major parties, he indicated, but he would not elaborate.

Similarly, Perot said his campaign, which is expected to depend heavily on television commercials, will be waged in an “unconventional” fashion but again declined to give any details.

Perot said he is “very quietly” working on the problem of selecting a qualified running mate and has not appointed any advisers to help him with the selection.

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“It’s important to me,” he said. “Life is uncertain, and it’s an enormous obligation to have a heartbeat away someone who could step in and do the job. Personally, I would want the vice president to be my chief of staff because the chief of staff knows more about what’s going on than the President.”


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