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Perot Wins Reform Party Nomination

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Closing their inaugural presidential nominating process and hoping to launch an alternative to the major political parties, Reform Party officials announced Saturday that Ross Perot would carry the party’s banner in the fall campaign for the White House.

The decision to pick the iconoclastic Dallas billionaire, who founded and has bankrolled the party, over former Colorado Gov. Richard D. Lamm surprised no one, but about 1,500 members of the fledgling party nevertheless traveled to this historic area to hear the announcement.

The results, announced by party Chairman Russ Verney, showed that Perot received 32,145 votes, or 65%, and Lamm received 17,121 votes, or 35%.

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“This is a brand new process creating a political field of dreams,” Verney said, thanking the reporters and party faithful for waiting nearly six hours in a cavernous banquet hall for the final tally. “We wanted to take our time and get the figures right.”

The process of nominating the party’s first presidential candidate featured a hybrid of new and old technologies that confused nearly everyone connected with it. Of the group’s 1.1 million eligible voters, a total of 49,266, about 4%, returned ballots. According to figures released by the party, 43,202 ballots (88%) were mailed in; 3,963 (8%) were phoned in, and 2,101 (4%) were sent by e-mail.

The helter-skelter process forced party officials to wait until late into Saturday night for accountants to verify the hodgepodge of results. Because of the unique balloting system, it was not even clear when the polls actually closed Saturday.

Separate companies were hired to count the mail, telephone and computer votes and then pass the results on to a New York accounting firm hired by Perot to coordinate the count.

For Perot, the nomination culminated a yearlong quest to fashion a new party and represented his second attempt to seek the presidency outside the traditional political parties. Four years ago, he used the United We Stand, America, organization as a platform for an independent bid.

This time around, the process attempted to more closely resemble some aspects of a traditional political campaign, with delegate committees in every state and a two-stage nominating convention.

In an attempt at historical symbolism, Reform Party officials picked a hotel-and-convention center complex at this famous Revolutionary War site as the location for the second stage of its nominating convention. The party gathered last weekend in Long Beach for the convention’s opening and speeches by Perot and Lamm.

Verney said additional details of the balloting, including a state-by-state breakdown, will be released by Tuesday. “We are extraordinarily proud of the process we have used,” he said.

But the voting system drew complaints all week, particularly from Lamm and his supporters. Lamm did not get a ballot until midweek, and then only when Perot stepped in and ordered the Ernst & Young accounting firm to allow Lamm and his daughter to vote.

Eligible voters were supposed to have received a ballot in the mail early this month with identification numbers similar to those used at automated teller machines. Those numbers were then to be used to identify the voter, whether he or she voted by mail, phone or e-mail.

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Although some would-be voters, including Lamm, got no ballots, others, because of confusion over names and addresses, got two or three ballots.

Verney said that after the accountants verified the final figures, he called Lamm and Perot to inform them of the outcome. He said he called Lamm first. Asked how that conversation went, Verney said that Lamm, who arrived at Valley Forge hours before the results were to be made public but didn’t attend the announcement, responded: “Thanks for the information. How’s everybody feeling up there?”

At a news conference, Lamm said he was disappointed:

“Am I sad? Yes.

“Am I mad? No.”

“Am I blue? No.”

“Am I sorry? No.”

The former governor said he called Perot to congratulate him but “I didn’t get him.”

Perot, who also did not attend the announcement ceremony, is expected to accept the nomination at a campaign rally today. After delivering his acceptance speech, Perot is scheduled to appear on CNN’s “Larry King Live.”

Throughout the primary process there has been conflict and tension between the two camps. Lamm supporters have said he was at a disadvantage because the same people who head the national headquarters of the party also run Perot’s campaign.

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Lamm has also criticized Perot’s refusal to debate and said his workers were denied access to computerized membership lists.

Lamm had given himself a 1-in-3 chance of beating Perot, but he said he supports the reform movement.

Varney said that Perot will begin campaigning soon after Labor Day and that they anticipated his participating in presidential elections. He said Perot hadn’t picked a running mate, but added, “I can tell you it won’t be Ed Rollins.” The cutting remark, directed at the GOP campaign strategist who recently published a book that offered an unflattering look at Perot’s 1992 campaign, drew loud cheers from the audience.

The Reform Party, which is on ballots in some form in 40 states, has been negotiating for 30-minute blocks of time on all four major television networks. The broadcasts will run about once a week until the election, Verney said.

Fund-raising efforts also will begin soon, he said.


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