Ross Perot promised an unconventional campaign. He certainly delivered.
In an oddly listless final day of campaigning, Perot addressed a disappointingly small rally in his hometown of Dallas, bought two final hours of prime-time television exposure, then retreated to the comfortable seclusion of his high-rise offices.
While his Democratic and Republican rivals were exhausting themselves in a frenzy of last-minute politicking, Perot seemed serene as he appeared before perhaps 3,500 followers in the 17,000-seat Reunion Arena in downtown Dallas.
He thanked his supporters and summarized his roller-coaster candidacy this way: “What we’ve been through hasn’t been pretty, but by golly you’re taking your country back.”
While again predicting victory in all 50 states in today’s balloting, Perot also announced that he had adopted the Patsy Cline classic “Crazy” as the official theme song of his quixotic candidacy. President Bush last week said that Perot’s allegations that Republican dirty tricksters had plotted to smear his daughter and disrupt her wedding were “crazy.”
“There are millions of crazy people in this country,” Perot told the crowd as he urged them to round up all their crazy friends and get them to vote. “And I’ll say tomorrow I bet it’ll be a crazy day at the polls.”
The lunchtime rally closed with Perot dancing to the tune with his wife, Margot, and each of their four daughters.
Monday’s turnout was surprising after four well-attended Perot rallies over the weekend in Tampa, Fla., Kansas City, and Long Beach and Santa Clara, Calif. Aides had plastered Perot placards on virtually every seat in Reunion Arena, making the sparseness of the crowd all the more glaring.
Asked to explain the thousands of empty seats, Perot spokeswoman Sharon Holman said: “It’s a big place.”
As he had at the weekend rallies, Perot characterized both President Bush and Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton as unfit to lead the country out of its economic morass.
He said that of the three candidates, only he is qualified to address fundamental economic problems because of his business acumen.
After describing Arkansas’s economy as based primarily on the poultry industry, Perot ridiculed its governor.
“In putting America back to work, is the chicken man the most qualified man?” Perot asked, receiving a lusty “No!” in response.
“When you talk about rebuilding America . . . you can’t do it with Third World minimum-wage jobs.”
Neither is Bush capable of reducing the deficit and boosting employment, Perot said.
“You’ve got two guys running for President who don’t know how to create jobs, don’t know how to manage money, don’t know how to build businesses and don’t know how to be the servant of the people of the United States,” the computer tycoon said.
The billionaire noted that General Motors’ board of directors was meeting Monday to fire several of the ailing auto maker’s senior executives after two years of massive financial losses and shrinking market share.
Perot noted that in the mid-1980s, he was GM’s largest shareholder because of the company’s buyout of his data processing firm, EDS. “I put my belly across the railroad track and begged them to fix it while there was still time. I have done the same thing this year, and you’ve done the same thing, because time is our enemy and not our friend, and we need to go to work now.”
According to Perot folklore, the tycoon drives a 1984 Oldsmobile to work and to the barbershop, to get a feel for the common man’s automotive experience. But the United Auto Workers distributed literature in Michigan and Missouri this weekend saying that an examination of Texas automobile registration records revealed that Perot owns a Mercedes, a Jaguar and a Volvo.
A Perot spokeswoman refused to comment on the UAW’s assertion, nor would she say what brands of cars he owns. “That kind of information is not released freely around here,” April Cotton said.
Perot spent nearly $2.9 million for two hours of television time on election eve to rebroadcast his half-hour infomercial dubbed “Chicken Feathers, Deep Voodoo and the American Dream,” on ABC, CBS and NBC.
The program is a harsh critique of Clinton’s 12-year record as Arkansas governor and of Bush’s handling of the economy and foreign policy during his 12 years in national office.
Perot also aired a repeat of a half-hour show called “Ross, You Bet Your Hat We Can Win,” designed to answer the assertion from both parties that a vote for Perot would be wasted because he cannot win the presidency.
In the latter program, which was re-edited Monday to include footage from the enthusiastic weekend rallies in Florida and California, disenchanted voters tell how Perot’s common-sense message energized them to participate in politics for the first time.
The testimonials are repeatedly interrupted by rally scenes in which thousands of Perot supporter chant: “We want Ross.”
At the end of the half-hour ad, Perot looks directly into the camera and tells voters: “The only way not to throw your vote away is to vote for me.
“You’ve only got one choice,” Perot continues. “The candidate for President, as I’ve said on more than one occasion, if you want action, you are stuck with me. If you want talk, you’ve got two choices. If you want a nice, fine young man who has little or no experience running anything bigger than Dallas and Ft. Worth, whose major jobs in his state are in the chicken industry, you’ve got a choice there. If you want to keep a President who was instrumental in creating all these problems, keep him.
“If you want action, let’s do it,” Perot concludes.
But as Perot was talking of victory, even some of his most avid backers began to speak almost wistfully of the legacy of the Perot movement.
Jim Serur, chairman of the Perot effort in Texas, said that “this experience has changed my life dramatically. It won’t be business as usual for me when this campaign is over because we will have just begun.”
Warming up the Dallas crowd before Perot’s appearance, Serur said of his jaunty hero: “He’s inspired us. He’s challenged us. He’s encouraged us. And he’s convinced us that if we set our minds to it, nothing can stop us. For all of this, we will be forever grateful to him.”
A Perot victory celebration is planned for tonight at a North Dallas hotel. Aides said that Perot planned to appear “at some point,” but had no other public appearances scheduled for Election Day.
He voted last week under Texas’ early voting program without informing reporters, so there will be no Election Day photograph of the candidate voting.