Ross Perot has spent millions of dollars trying to become president, but he professed not to care about his performance in what was perhaps his best chance to win a few votes.
Who won the debate?"I have no idea," Perot told a post-debate news conference.
He also had no opinion about his opponents' performance. And, taking a pointed jab at the media and its spin doctors, he said it wouldn't make much difference what he thought, anyway.
"We'll let all the guys that make a living telling everybody what to think tell us how it came out, OK?" he said. "I was there. I didn't get to see myself. So I'll read in the paper tomorrow if I was tired or if I sweated or if my tie was at an angle or all those things that are really important."
Several hundred volunteers, almost exclusively white and middle-age, watched the debate on two large-screen TVs at a suburban hotel. They didn't have to wait for any analysis.
Patti Koonce, 39, a secretary from Belleville, Ill., said it showed the world what kind of man Perot is.
"The more he's seen in the debates, the more everybody will see in him what I see," Koonce said. "After this and the next two debates, I don't know how he can't win."
Nancy Rollheiser, 47, of Prairie Village, Kan., said Perot was the only believable candidate on the stage.
"I listened to the other two, and when Perot spoke I understood what he was saying," Rollheiser said. "He says exactly what he means. I am so proud of him."
Perot got several ovations from his supporters during the debate. Perhaps the loudest came after Perot answered a question about experience in government by saying: "I don't have any experience running up a $4 trillion debt."
From the start, Perot presented himself as a folksy, common-sense solution to Washington's ills, drawing clear distinctions between himself and his two major-party rivals. He spent most of his time offering himself as a tough-talking, can-do candidate ready to fix the "mess" in Washington.
"I'm not playing Lawrence Welk music tonight," Perot said Sunday night as he defended his program of tax increases and sharp cuts in government spending to reduce the federal deficit.
The tough talk continued as he tried to tell supporters later that his proposal to increase gasoline taxes was needed and wouldn't be so bad.
"How'd you like to be a pregnant woman traveling west in a covered wagon?" Perot said. "That's my definition of a tough trip."
Political scientists who watched the debate said Perot gave a solid performance, but agreed that it didn't establish him as a serious candidate.
"He obviously wins the humor award, but I don't think he crossed the threshold of being a serious presidential candidate yet," said Tom Cronin of Colorado College. Cronin predicted "there will be a bounce for Perot' in the polls nonetheless.
Perot didn't profess to care about that, either.
"I'm not trying to nudge up (the polls)," Perot said. "I'm just trying to talk about real stuff. There's just a lot you don't get from polls and I don't pay attention to them."