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Perot Quits Presidential Race : Clinton’s Goal: the Revitalizing of America : Politics: Texan cites the Democratic Party’s new vigor for his exit and says he didn’t want a three-way race thrown to the House. Now it’s Clinton vs. Bush.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Throwing the presidential campaign into new turmoil, Ross Perot quit his independent bid for the White House on Thursday, saying that a newly revitalized Democratic Party will preclude any chances of his winning the Oval Office.

Citing his training as an engineer, Perot said his own “rational analysis” is that a three-way race would not result in a majority winner in the electoral college and would put the election into the House of Representatives. That would both disrupt the national government and, because Democrats dominate the House, doom his candidacy, he said.

“I have an obligation to do the right thing,” Perot said.

Perot declined to endorse either President Bush or Democratic nominee Bill Clinton. Both candidates called Perot after his announcement and reached out to his supporters.

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Bush, vacationing in Wyoming, told a news conference that “a lot of people that supported Ross want to see the kinds of changes that I want to see. . . . We want their support.”

Referring to Perot’s backers, Clinton said: “We have heard their message and share their hopes. I ask them to give us a fair hearing, to read our plan for putting people first. I invite them to join us in our efforts to change our country and give our government back to the people.”

Perot insisted that his decision was not influenced by his plunging standing in the public opinion polls--or by the debilitating disarray that has racked his organization in recent days. On Wednesday, nearly a dozen top aides, led by veteran GOP strategist Edward J. Rollins, resigned from his campaign.

“This whole thing was motivated by love of country, not personal. You know, I don’t have any drive to be President of the United States,” Perot said at a mid-morning press conference at his Dallas campaign headquarters.

“When we started . . . there was a climate there where we could win outright,” Perot asserted. But now, he said, “the Democratic Party has revitalized itself. They’ve done a brilliant job, in my opinion, in coming back.”

Perot did not elaborate on that point. But Morton H. Meyerson, a longtime Perot confidant and campaign adviser, later cited the Democratic Party’s platform as something that “Ross feels good about.”

Meyerson added: “The Democrats seem to be listening to the people.”

Perot’s surprise announcement stunned his supporters throughout the country, setting off an avalanche of calls to his volunteer-staffed telephone bank here, which was to remain open at least through Monday.

The signatures Perot filed have been validated in 24 states, including California, and they are awaiting validation in seven other states. In most of those states he will remain on the ballot. But in California, Perot’s electoral college voters have not been certified. Unless that process proceeds, he will not make the state’s ballot, Secretary of State March Fong Eu said Thursday.

Perot urged voters in November to deliver “a unified government with a strong leader.” He said his volunteers are free to go with “either candidate.” But Perot also urged them to continue their drive to put his name on the November ballot as a way of keeping the political Establishment “focused” on their discontent.

The Dallas businessman also claimed a moral victory, saying: “Both political parties are now squarely focused on the issues that concern the American people. . . . Rebuilding our country--that’s what the people want.”

Perot did not mention Bush or Clinton by name, but he again praised former Massachusetts Sen. Paul E. Tsongas, an unsuccessful candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination who has endorsed Clinton.

“To quote Sen. Tsongas: ‘There is no Santa Claus,’ ” Perot said. “Now, I would urge both candidates not to run on the Santa Claus theory, because they’re going to get a lot of soot on them going down the chimney if they try that.”

Perot also said he intends to continue speaking his mind. “I probably won’t have a personality change. I’ll say what’s on my mind.”

Perot is scheduled to appear tonight on CNN’s “Larry King Live” talk show--the same program on which Perot in February said he was willing to run for President.

In his brief appearance before reporters Thursday, Perot seemed to leave an iota of a chance that he still might be persuaded to play a role in the presidential campaign, although not as a candidate.

If both political parties prove “insensitive” to the concerns of his supporters, Perot said, and “if all the volunteers call me and say, ‘Look, we need to get together and figure out what to do,’ certainly I owe it to them to get together with them any time they want to.”

Perot did not seem embittered during his press conference, and he said he had few, if any, real regrets.

He got testy only once--when a reporter asked if he had betrayed his supporters by quitting because he could not “take the heat.”

Perot snapped: “I am trying to do what’s right for my country. Now, that probably makes me odd in your eyes, but that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Meyerson said he was not surprised by Perot’s decision. “I don’t think he ever wanted to be President badly. I think he was prepared to be President.”

James Squires, a former Chicago newspaper editor who was hired by Perot to handle media and who became one of Perot’s close advisers, added that Perot had been “taken aback” by the ferocity of the rough-and-tumble campaign, one in which “character examination turned overnight into character assassination.”

Perot dismissed as “insignificant” the recent turmoil in his campaign.

Volunteers in many states had complained of being brusquely dictated to by highhanded professional strategists who had joined the campaign in recent weeks. Many volunteers were further miffed when Dallas headquarters required supporters who would cast electoral college votes to sign loyalty oaths and submit undated resignations. Perot’s advisers defended the requirements as a protection against defections.

In his public appearances, Perot also stumbled, saying during a nationally broadcast television interview that he would not appoint gays and lesbians to top government posts. His subsequent elucidations had not entirely satisfied some gay rights activists.

Perot last week also offended some black Americans by referring to them as “you people” during a Nashville speech at the NAACP national convention. Perot’s aides said Thursday that he was particularly crestfallen by the public reaction to that talk and that it may have proved a turning point in Perot’s political odyssey.

Internally, Perot’s campaign also was unraveling. Rollins, the veteran Republican Party strategist who resigned Wednesday, had wanted Perot to begin television advertising, declare his candidacy and campaign across the country--all advice that the strong-minded Perot rejected.

For Rollins, the final straw came when Perot terminated the services of Hal Riney, a well-regarded political advertising executive whom Rollins had hired to produce TV spots for Perot.

Perot was upset by the high cost of the spots--upwards of $100,000 each--as well as by the contents, which included a biographical sketch of the candidate and testimonials from some of his volunteers.

Perot simply wanted “talking head” commercials, sources said. Riney is perhaps best known for his highly acclaimed “Morning in America” ads for former President Ronald Reagan’s 1984 campaign.

Perot insisted he was untroubled by such “insignificant” distractions, which nevertheless had clearly taken the sail out of his grass-roots campaign.

After Rollins finished a press conference late Wednesday afternoon to announce his resignation, Rollins and his hired hands found their telephones disconnected and their security cards deactivated.

“The fun is still there,” Perot said gamely on Thursday. “But I’m not in this for ego. I’m not in this for fun. I’m not in this for gratification.

“I’m in this for what’s good for my country, what’s good for our children and our grandchildren, and I’m trying to do the right thing. It’s that simple.”

Perot, a billionaire, said he spent about $10 million on his short-lived undeclared presidential campaign.

Officials of both parties quickly sought to lay claim to Perot supporters, some of whom were lured by Perot’s candidacy to participate in the political process for the first time.

“Many of Perot’s people share our values,” declared Richard N. Bond, Republican Party chairman.

His Democratic counterpart, Ronald H. Brown, insisted it is Clinton who will tap into the discontent that had fueled Perot’s campaign.

“The interesting thing about Ross Perot is that he talked about getting the economy back on track. That’s what Bill Clinton has been talking about, and he has a plan,” Brown told reporters in New York. “I think this bodes well for Bill Clinton.”

After Perot’s announcement, the famous telephone bank at his headquarters quickly became swamped. Some of the volunteers answering the phones had tears streaming down their cheeks. Many callers, some of them said, were proposing to hold rallies in hopes of changing Perot’s mind.

“They just don’t want to give him up. He’s too good a man,” said Grady Hendrix, a Dallas Perot volunteer, as he surveyed the room of nearly 100 telephone volunteers.

Some other volunteers were outraged, including a small contingent of Arizonans who had just arrived for meetings at Perot’s campaign headquarters.

Debbie Collings said she had recently quit a nascent retail business to sign up as a regional coordinator. “I’m in complete shock. I’m disappointed. But I’m still for Perot.”

Walter Peters of Phoenix, chairman of the Arizona Perot for President drive, added: “This was our great hope. Now what? I’d like to keep going. Maybe he’ll change his mind.”

One of Perot’s paramount concerns as he contemplated pulling out was how his volunteers would react, his advisers said.

Perot knew that they might feel betrayed, Meyerson said, but Perot was motivated by a larger concern for the country, lest the election be thrown into the House. Unless one candidate gets 270 electoral votes, an absolute majority, the House decides the election.

Hamilton Jordan, a former political strategist for President Jimmy Carter who had joined the Perot campaign the same day as Rollins, disagreed Thursday with Perot’s prediction of the outcome of a three-way race.

“Up until the time he announced today, I thought he could win,” Jordan said.

Asked Thursday about how he arrived at his decision to withdraw, Perot simply replied: “I’m an engineer. I just rationally looked at the facts. . . . You don’t make good decisions with emotions. You make good decisions just looking at the facts.”

Perot walked out of his press conference by saying that he now plans to “go to work, go to work.”

“I’ve got to pay the bills.”

The “roller coaster ride,” as Tom Luce, another confidant, had called it only two days earlier, was over.

A QUITTER?: Some Perot associates say the Texas billionaire’s decision to quit was predictable. A7

MORE PEROT STORIES: A5-A7, A28, D1, D4


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