Countywide : VENTURA : 400 Attend Plaza Park Rally in Support of Ross Perot

Nona Papageorge considers herself a loyal Republican. Stan Smith says he's a lifelong Democrat.

But neither are happy with supporting George Bush or Bill Clinton for President, so they came to a rally Saturday at a Ventura park to learn more about a possible third choice, Texas billionaire Ross Perot.

Nearly 400 people turned out at the Perot rally in Plaza Park to sign petitions, register to vote, and hear speeches about Perot, who is soon expected to announce his candidacy.

Although the majority of the crowd clearly supported Perot, many wearing "Ross Perot for President" T-shirts and Perot buttons, others showed up Saturday out of disgust with the status quo and their own parties' choices.

"I'm a Republican, but I'm kind of disappointed in the whole system," said Papageorge, 59, of Camarillo. "But I don't know what Perot stands for. I think everyone is kind of charmed with his wealth and he talks real simple, but I don't think he's simple at all."

Smith, 72, of Burbank also said he was wary of Perot. "Beware of a man on a white horse," he said. "I'm not easily swayed. The really important issues, such as health care and education, are not being addressed."

Roy Patton of Ojai, however, was already sold on Perot.

"With John Kennedy, I was in love with his wife. With Jimmy Carter, I was in love with his mother. This time around I'm in love with Ross Perot," said Patton, an 80-year-old Perot volunteer. He said he spends several hours a week asking people to sign petitions to put Perot on California's November ballot.

Patton defended Perot from charges that his public positions lack specifics. "He's not making any promises he can't keep. He operates in a pragmatic way," he said.

Saturday's rally featured retired Vice Adm. James B. Stockdale, Perot's temporary running mate, as the central speaker. "There is nothing in it for me, there is nothing in it for you, there is nothing in it for any of us, except for saving our country," Stockdale said, his voice rising dramatically. "It is our country, and we need to take it back from the professional politicians."

People in the audience, most of whom had been sitting on the grass, jumped up to give him a standing ovation.

Perot, the Dallas businessman whose personal fortune has been estimated at exceeding $3 billion, has said he will run for President as an independent if volunteers can qualify him for the November ballot in all 50 states.

In California, about 135,000 signatures are required to be filed with the secretary of state by Aug. 7.

Bob Hayden, a Ventura civil engineer who is Perot's statewide coordinator, said volunteers have gathered more than 500,000 signatures across the state as of Saturday afternoon.

Hayden said he does not yet know when volunteers will submit the petitions. "We want everyone to get a chance to sign," he said. "There are some parts of the state where we're just getting started."

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