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Analyzing the Early Campaign

Perot '92

Tom Luce
Perot Petition Committee

December 4, 1992


Participants and observers gathered for dinner at the Harvard Faculty club to discuss phase one of the presidential campaign of H. Ross Perot as part of a meeting of campaign strategists organized after the election every four years by the Kennedy School's Institute of Politics (IOP). Former IOP-Fellow and Perot Petition Committee chairman Tom Luce opened the session and CNN political analyst Ken Bode moderated the evening's discussion.

Excerpted with permission from Campaign for President: The Managers Look at '92. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, translated, or transmitted in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the Hollis Publishing Company, Hollis, NH.
Copyright ©1994 by The Institute of Politics.


CONTENTS

Introduction
Movement vs. Messenger
Election Results
Grassroots Movement
Perot Ascendent
Impact Of Free Media
Absorbing The Message
Diversity Of Support
Dangers Of Plurality
Media Trajectory
Strategy Gap
Controlling The Agenda
What It Takes
Ballot Access
Media Validation



THEME KEY
Tom Luce
Perot '92

Candidates Parties Electorate Strategy Issues Media Money Ballot AccessElectoral Process
Impact Of Free Media

Media Validation
Grassroots Movement

Perot Ascendent

Impact Of Free Media

Absorbing The Message

Diversity Of Support

What It Takes
Election Results

Absorbing The Message

Grassroots Movement

Perot Ascendent

Absorbing The Message

Diversity Of Support

Media Trajectory

Strategy Gap
Media Trajectory

Strategy Gap

Controlling The Agenda
Movement vs. Messenger

Election Results

Perot Ascendent

Absorbing The Message

Diversity Of Support

Dangers Of Plurality

Strategy Gap

Controlling The Agenda

What It Takes
Perot Ascendent

Impact Of Free Media

Media Trajectory

Strategy Gap

Controlling The Agenda

What It Takes

Media Validation
Grassroots Movement

Perot Ascendent

Diversity Of Support

Media Trajectory

What It Takes
Grassroots Movement

Ballot Access
Ballot Access
Candidates Parties Electorate Strategy Issues Media Money Ballot AccessElectoral Process


The electronic age allowed a Ross Perot to go from zero to a lead in the national polls, without spending a dime on paid television. I submit to you that he could have won the presidency. And you say, 'Well, but, gee, you know, if a frog had wings he could fly.' Ross Perot has demonstrated that it is possible.

Tom Luce, Chairman, Perot Petition Committee


Introduction

Ken Bode: A little news broke out at my table tonight. I knew that the Perot campaign was something that came together rather quickly, that sometimes the mix of personalities was not what you would expect it to be. Anybody who has run into Ed Rollins in the last six months knows that, too. Independent candidacies bring people together from all over the country quickly. However, one of the things I did not know is that Orson Swindle and Tom Luce, two major figures in that campaign, met for the first time here, last night. And that is the headline of this dinner, folks. We have two parts to this session tonight. It all deals with the father of the bride and the leader of the citizen uprising, but the first part is going to be in the hands of the head of the Perot Petition Committee. We're going to go from the time that Ross Perot was on the Larry King show through September 1, which is prior to the time he got back into the race.

Tom Luce, the head of the Perot Petition Committee, is going to speak to us first, and then I'm going to come back here and moderate a discussion which I hope is freewheeling. We will hear from Tom Luce, Sharon Holman and Clay Mulford. Orson Swindle is out of the frame tonight. He's back in business tomorrow because he wasn't in the campaign until later. We'll have a discussion about what happened with Ross Perot's campaign, beginning with Tom Luce's remarks after 15 minutes of which you're free to begin to rattle the glasses and things like that.
[CONTENTS] [THEME KEY]

Movement vs. Messenger

Tom Luce: Let me start by saying that I want it clear to this group that I have written a book about my experiences. It has been put out for auction, and, so far, the bidders are National Enquirer and Ross Perot. I figure I'll win either way, so keeping that in mind, I'm not sure that I will respond to all of your questions, but I bet I will.

Ross Perot is no John Anderson, nor is he Strom Thurmond. He is, in fact, the person who has gathered the most votes as a third party or independent candidate for president since one Teddy Roosevelt. What I really hope to do tonight - before we get to the "who shot Harry" and "what about Ed" and "Father of the Bride" and all the other questions that I'm sure await me - is to provoke this group to think a little bit about the Perot candidacy and what he did this year, and urge you to separate in your mind your evaluation of Ross Perot the messenger and the Ross Perot movement. Perot's personality is such a large one that there has been an inordinate amount of focus on the messenger, which is certainly understandable. But I think people will miss the full import of what happened unless they separate in their minds the messenger and the message.
[CONTENTS] [THEME KEY]

Election Results

Maybe I can do that by sharing with you my experiences in the first phase of I came out to help Ross full time around April 1, but I was involved from February 20 until July 16. Let's start by jumping ahead to the election results, because I think it's important to put it in context. You're aware of the numbers, the almost 20 percent of the vote he got, but there were a lot of other things that were significant in that vote: the fact that he got 20 percent or more of the vote in 31 states, that he finished second in divergent states, such as Utah and Maine. I'm sure you're going to hear Senator Dole talk a lot about Perot because Perot got - what was it? - 27 percent of the vote in Kansas. [Kansas vote: 34 percent Clinton; 39 percent Bush; 27 percent Perot.]

Look at the diversity of the states in which he did well. These results demonstrate that his appeal cut across party lines, cut across geography, cut across demographic lines like maybe no other candidate we've had in modern history. The two parties should think about what it means because if the two parties do not respond in a major way to the Perot movement, electoral politics are going to be transformed in the years to come. Let me share with you at least a little bit about my thesis in that regard.
[CONTENTS] [THEME KEY]

Grassroots Movement

First of all, let's talk about the volunteer effort in the grassroots movement from February until July, because I know there's a good deal of cynicism and questions about how much was the grass watered and, gee, when he got back in October, what about this and what about that. What I can share with you is my direct knowledge that from February until July there was truly a grassroots movement. Thousands of people called the 800 number. Volunteers self-selected their own organizations in 50 states and, believe me, they organized themselves. I can tell you that as of the time I left, in July, there were only 50 people on the payroll of the campaign staff. Most of that number was totally absorbed in trying to deal with the Byzantine FEC rules that required us to report everything. If a volunteer bought a billboard, we had to account for it. They were totally absorbed in explaining ballot-access rules in 50 states, how to comply with FEC rules, and refereeing intramural fights, but that's really all they did.

There was not a single signature paid for in that time period. As of July 16, when Perot withdrew, he had qualified on the ballot in 24 states, in that time period. There were enough signatures collected for him to qualify in another 16 at that point in time, so except in the state of New York, which was a problem later on, most of the ballot work had been done. It had been done by volunteers who organized their own effort.

A few examples will show you what an unconventional campaign we had. I met the California volunteer chairman for the first time one week before the California primary. He reported to me that in the first three weeks they were in existence, they had self-selected their own leadership, opened up 20 offices statewide, and recruited 38,000 volunteers who collected 500,000 signatures in three weeks.

When he came in to see me in Dallas, he said: "I think we're doing real well, and I think in the remaining three weeks we have under California law, we'll collect another 500,000 signatures." He was wrong. They collected a total of 1.5 million signatures, and only one Perot staff person visited California. In two Pacific Northwest states, more than 50 percent of the registered voters signed Perot petitions. In Texas, in five weeks, the volunteers collected 250,000 signatures, which had to be from people who were registered but had not voted in the March primary, and there was no centralized voting list to show the volunteers who had voted in March. So they had to ascertain one, that somebody was a registered voter and, two, that he or she didn't vote in the March primary. They qualified 250,000 signatures, and that was going on all over the country.
[CONTENTS] [THEME KEY]

Perot Ascendent

Now, the culmination of all that was that from February 20 to June 20, in a three-month time period, Perot went from zero to the lead in the national polls. At that point in time, he had not spent one dime on paid television. The Perot campaign had spent a total of $6 million, as of July 15. Actually, I think it was $6.4 million. By then, the Democrats had spent roughly $25 million, and the Republicans had spent roughly the same amount. Yet Perot went from being a national unknown, a zero, to the lead in several of the polls by the middle of June. Now, folks, that would not have happened if a huge portion of the population did not believe that the two parties were bankrupt.

Let me say, it doesn't give me a great deal of joy and comfort to say that. I've been a lifelong Republican. I ran as a Republican for governor of Texas, but I believe that that sentiment is real.

The critical factor becomes: Does one of the two parties reach out and absorb that movement, just as, let's say, Roosevelt did with the far-left supporters to form the New Deal, or as Nixon did with the silent majority, when he went from 43 percent to the overwhelming victory four years later? That certainly is our history, and that gives me a little bit of comfort that one of the two parties will find a way to reach out and absorb the Perot people and the Perot principles. But if one of the two major parties does not do that, in today's electronic age, I would submit to you that our politics could be transformed, and whether that's bad or good, I don't know, but it'll be very different. There's a revealing historical account of the Kennedy/Khrushchev years by Michael Beschloss [Crisis Years: Kennedy and Khrushchev 1960 - 1963]in which he says that when the Berlin Wall went up, neither President Kennedy nor any other representative of the United States government made any response for 12 days, while the government debated what to do. In today's world, CNN would televise it live, and the President of the United States might have 12 hours to develop his or her position.
[CONTENTS] [THEME KEY]

Impact Of Free Media

The electronic age allowed a Ross Perot to go from zero to a lead in the national polls, without spending a dime on paid television. I submit to you that he could have won the presidency. And you say, "Well, but, gee, you know, if a frog had wings he could fly." Ross Perot has demonstrated that it is possible. Earlier today, we referred to the killing fields of the primaries. Someone in the future may also decide that they want to avoid the ordeal and that you don't have to be a billionaire to do that in today's electronic age. I don't want to start any chuckling, but I would submit to you that Rush Limbaugh could decide to run for president of the United States. I would submit to you that Bill Cosby could decide to run for President of the United States. You can make up your own list. The political parties will not be the judge of who can run for president, and the press will not decide who will run for president.
[CONTENTS] [THEME KEY]

Absorbing The Message

Therefore, the two parties must understand the Perot phenomenon and deal with it, absorb the message. It is there, it is real, it did not go away with the election of Bill Clinton as president, with all due regard to the wonderful campaign that he ran. It will not go away, in my judgment, if Bill Clinton is simply a skillful politician in the conventional mold. It will not go away because there really is a deep alienation and anger with the system. I would draw to your attention a report by the Kettering Foundation produced by the Harwood Group which, in 1991, studied voter attitudes all over the country, trying to ''learn why we didn't have higher voter participation." The conclusions of this lengthy study were: People are not voting because they're apathetic. They are not voting because they are angry. They are not voting because they see no connection between the political system and the problems in their lives.They don't believe it matters whether Bill Clinton wins or George Bush wins. They don't think there is any way for themselves to plug into the system.
[CONTENTS] [THEME KEY]

Diversity Of Support

What you saw in the tremendous outpouring of the volunteers working for Perot in phase one was they saw a way to plug in. They saw a way to be heard, and that feeling is deep and it cuts across economic, geographic, and cultural lines.

The other thing that was very noticeable to me is, in the entire time I worked in phase one of the Perot campaign, I never had a single volunteer ask me if Perot was conservative, liberal, or moderate. As far as they were concerned, those were meaningless terms, a part of the dialogue of the system which they have rejected.

Their basic attitude is, fix the damn problem. That's what I observed and that is going to drive what happens over the next several presidential cycles. I understand what money can do in politics. I ran for governor against Clayton Williams and I understand that Ross Perot had a big advantage in his checkbook. The press decided money made him a credible candidate, but, again, if you study what happened, he didn't use that checkbook in the February-to-July time frame, and that is what we really ought to focus on before we get all wrapped up in what happened in October.
[CONTENTS] [THEME KEY]

Dangers Of Plurality

Again let me stress my conclusion, that if the two parties do not respond, we may have a situation like the French had some 20 years ago, with numerous candidates. It was impossible to get 50 percent of the electorate to support somebody. The French government couldn't really function because nobody could get a mandate to lead. That can happen here if the two parties do not respond to what happened. Think about what happened separate and apart from Ross. We can talk about Ross in a minute.

It's going to take some major changes, in my judgment, but I think it's incumbent upon the leadership that's here in this room to think about it and act upon it.
[CONTENTS] [THEME KEY]

Media Trajectory

Ken Bode: I want to remind you, since most of us didn't bring our folders along tonight, of the time frame that we're dealing with here tonight. We're focusing on the period from February 20, when Perot went on "Larry King Live" the first time and said he'd spend $50 to $100 million. A month or two after that, he led in the Texas poll. Two days after that appeared, he hired Jim Squires. A month after that, he was ahead in California, in the Mason-Dixon poll, and in Colorado. On May 5, the first negative stories began to appear. Perot the outsider was linked to the Nixon White House, getting special favors and so forth. A week after that, the CNN/Time poll put Perot ahead for the first time nationally, 33 to Bush's 28 to Clinton's 24.

Three days after that, Marlin Fitzwater called him a dangerous monster. A couple of days after that, stories began to appear on his early release from the Navy. Then Marilyn Quayle made her first forays against Ross Perot; she seemed to be the advance guard of the Republican attack forces. In her first comment to the press, she said Perot was trying to buy the election. In her second one she said that he was a snake-oil salesman. A few days after that, Ross Perot hired Ed Rollins and Hamilton Jordan, and a week after that, the Wall Street Journal began its stories about his private detectives investigating marital infidelities. A week after that, it was Perot's investigation of the Bush children. The Los Angeles Times weighed in with the fact that a naval officer in command of the fleet Perot served in said he was emotionally maladjusted. The New York Times revealed that Perot had negotiated with the Reagan administration on various foreign policy things. On July 11, Ross Perot gave the NAACP speech in which he referred to "you people" and "your people."

A few days later, Ed Rollins quit, and on that same day, the Washington Post showed that Perot had fallen, and the polls now showed that Clinton was ahead 42, Bush 30, Perot 20. On July 16, Perot was out, and on July 17, the day after he withdrew, Bill Clinton went up 14 points, Bush 3 points.
[CONTENTS] [THEME KEY]

Strategy Gap

Tom Luce: Very clearly, there was never a mesh between Perot's concept of what an unconventional campaign meant and mine or Ed Rollins' or Hamilton Jordan's. What I tried to do was bridge the gap between the unconventional and the professional, using my own experience, as limited as it was. I quickly concluded that more than my limited experience was needed, so I brought in two professionals who had been through it and who understood what the hell was going on and what needed to go on. I felt that we could marry the two.

Ed and Hamilton came on roughly 30 days before Ross withdrew - really, less than 30 days. As soon as they came on board, the Republican "non-orchestrated attack" - two-thirds of which was orchestrated, I think - occurred. Ed and Ham were trying to come up with a game plan to recommend to Ross. It was a very chaotic time.

I never succeeded in getting Ross to sign off on the strategy that I thought was winnable. I was pushing very hard to go on television, to define Ross before the Republicans could define him, and all of those things. Perot had it in his mind that that approach was politics. Communicate directly with the American people on television, and they wouldn't care much for all that other stuff anyway. Keep in mind, all the time I'm telling him he can't do it his way, he's going to the lead in the national polls.

Then the attack occurs, and we have nothing in the can, nothing to go on television with. Perot is still trying to get up to speed on all the issues, come to grips with the economic plan, and assimilate Ed and Hamilton. It just never came together in any professional way. I don't know if it could have, with time.

One thing Hamilton said over and over to me: "You know, Luce, Jimmy Carter and I made our mistakes in Iowa." The two of us, alone, with nobody around, driving a Volkswagen. "You and Perot are dropped into the Super Bowl in the fourth quarter, and you're still trying to get your uniforms on."

A certain amount of that was there, and I do think that we never came to grips with a strategy. But I think Ross's strategy was, gee, you just stay on free television, you do an October television blitz. As far as he was concerned, he was going to be able to shape the agenda of the '92 presidential election, "tell it like it was," in his verbiage. If he won, he won. If he didn't, he couldn't have cared less.
[CONTENTS] [THEME KEY]

Controlling The Agenda

He felt like he could control the agenda and he did, with all due respect to Paul Tsongas and Bill Clinton. I don't think Bill Clinton alone could have made the economy the issue. I think Perot took it to a different level. If it had just been Bush and Clinton, it would have been seen as more partisan political finger-pointing. I think Perot impacted the agenda.
[CONTENTS] [THEME KEY]

What It Takes

Dave Carney: I admire the intensity of your volunteers, the effort they made, their leadership, their energy. I think any campaign in the country would have been proud to have even one of those state organizations on their side. I think the parties have shown historically that they're not as dumb as people think they are, and that they will respond to a lot of the changes that Perot talked about. It does take something special to generate the kind of media nationally that Jesse Jackson or Ross Perot or Lee Iacocca can get.

I don't think your premise is valid, that any Joe Schmoe who has some good ideas and some energy can be booked on a show and generate four million volunteers without something in his arsenal like $3 billion. I think our party and the Democrats will respond to take care of the problems that Perot talked about - not solving them, but at least - moving in that direction.

Tom Luce: One, I didn't say the two parties were stupid, David, and I didn't mean to offend. I said in a very encouraging way that I hoped that the parties would respond, as they have in the past, to absorb the movement. Number two, I didn't say any Joe Schmoe. What concerns me is, any celebrity may be able to do it. Rush Limbaugh is not Joe Schmoe. You know, people in here might think he's Joe Schmoe, but he's a celebrity. Bill Cosby can get on the Larry King show. There are other celebrities who can get on the Larry King show. Then it's up to them. If they're skillful communicators, the electronic media allows them to have a substantial impact. What I'm trying to say is, there won't be a gatekeeper.

Dave Carney: Pat Buchanan is a great communicator. As a third party or a nonparty person, I don't think he would have been successful. He was able to get three million votes and raise millions of dollars, but he had to do it through the party system. If Rush Limbaugh tried to run for president, people - Democrats - would be out in droves to insure that all the things that he said were out there and people knew more about him. I don't think that Rush, as an independent, could deal with them. It's remarkable for a nonparty-structure person to get on 50 state ballots? Most people in the world don't understand how complicated it is to get the qualifying ballots. Bay is so upset about South Dakota. You have to know the rules, you have to go out and work hard. I don't think that a Rush Limbaugh or a Pat Buchanan or a Ronald Reagan, or any of these other people would be as successful without a party structure.
[CONTENTS] [THEME KEY]

Ballot Access

Jim Connor: How long did it take, from start to finish, to get ballot access? Did you have it done by July 16?

Tom Luce: Twenty-four states by July 16, with enough signatures on hand to qualify in 16 others, which is 40, was the number as of July 16.

Jim Connor: And where were you for electoral votes in there?

Clay Mulford: Let me explain why that doesn't matter. In many states you cannot get on the ballot until a certain date. In Arizona, you can't start until September 9. In New York, we couldn't start until August 11, etc.

Jim Connor: All right. There is a season and, if you will, a stepping process to presidential nominations. You have to file by certain times. You have to participate in party caucuses and party primaries. If Perot could bypass this, who else can and does that open the system or devalue the system?

Clay Mulford: I'll leave to Tom the qualitative question about whether it enhances or detracts from the system. As a matter of law, the system is antidemocratic. It's obviously critical to be on the ballot. Ballot access is controlled by the parties in the states. Where the Democratic party fears, as they have in the South, that electors from a state party will not vote with the national Democratic party ticket, there are rules, for example, that are different. It is very difficult to gain ballot access; it's very expensive. John Anderson spent up to $2 million simply on ballot legal issues during 1980. We benefited from his efforts.
[CONTENTS] [THEME KEY]


Media Validation

Ann Devroy: A lot of people have referred to the primary process as the killing field for candidates. The press thinks of it as the period in which we examine the candidate's qualifications to be president. When Perot got out of that race, as you know, there were a lot of news organizations - including mine, the Washington Post - in lots of places, who were seriously looking at him in a way we hadn't when he wasn't going to be president, or had no chance of that. You maintain that there was nothing in his head that said, I can escape the scrutiny these other people had by getting in late, getting out, and then getting in again late. So, you skipped all the killing-field times, that is all the efforts of the press to say we need to introduce this guy to the American people in a way that he won't introduce himself.

Tom Luce: Let me say, in case there is any misunderstanding, the two-party system is very valid, primaries are very valid, in my judgement. I laid out a thesis which David or anybody else in this room can argue with. Today's world is different because of the electronic media. Whether I like it or not is beside the point. I would say it's a statement of fact that the primaries are a killing field, and somebody who is ambitious and smart and shrewd will say to himself, why the hell am I going to put myself through that, if I don't have to? I think a lesson from the Perot campaign is, it is possible. Then, I'm calling upon the two major parties to make sure that they adjust, and I think they will.

Note

Date of Perot's appearance on "Larry King Live." He said he would run if the volunteers got his name on the ballot in all 50 states.[RETURN TO TEXT]
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