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PEROT’S RE-ENTRY TENDS TO CONFUSE AND DIVIDE

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With the re-entry of mercurial Texas billionaire Ross Perot into the fray, the unorthodox 1992 presidential campaign becomes even more bizarre - if that's possible.

Though the latest independent polls show he has no chance of winning, Perot is bowing back into the race only 34 days before the election on the basis of the patently absurd claim that the American people have chosen him as their candidate.That claim rests on Perot-run surveys that were rigged and without any pretense to scientific accuracy or objectivity. The toll-free line he set up to receive public reaction to his potential re-entry has no mechanism for recording calls urging him not to get back into the race. Likewise, Reuter News Service reports that Perot's coordinators in the 50 states polled only those supporters who wanted him to run again.

Clearly, even such a highly successful businessman as Perot is not immune to the tendency to believe only what one wants to believe. But wishful thinking is hardly what Americans should be looking for in the next occupant of the White House.

What, then, can Perot and his supporters realistically hope to accomplish by the renewal of his self-financed campaign 11 weeks after he announced he would not run?

Yes, it sends Washington the pointed message that many Americans are dissatisfied with both President Bush and Bill Clinton - and with the general mess in Washington.

But it's a message that was sent and received much earlier - only to get watered down when Perot's popularity sagged as the public learned more about this man and his philosophy.

After announcing his possible candidacy in February, Perot was quickly propelled to the top of the polls ahead of Bush and Clinton. But he ended up a poor third in the polls after disclosures about his autocratic personality, his controversial remarks about women, blacks and homosexuals, and his use of private detectives to probe the lives of his opponents, employees and even his own children.

Nor was Perot helped by his long stalling in providing specifics on how he would balance the budget. Also troubling were such inconsistencies as calling for a bold cut in Social Security benefits in his best-selling book "United We Stand," then subsequently denying he contemplated such a move.

Moreover, his political philosophy is an ill-assorted blend of liberal and conservative ideas. He favors abortion rights and sex education, opposes school prayer, and champions less spending and higher taxes.

With his re-entry into the campaign on Thursday, Perot now must expect to face some of the same questions about his sensitivity and judgment that were left hanging when he pulled out of the presidential race last July.

What about the impact of the renewed Perot campaign on Bush and Clinton? Among pollsters, the consensus is that he will hurt Bush in the South but help him in the "rust belt" states of the North and possibly elsewhere. But the analysts are undecided about whether Bush or Clinton will benefit the most overall.

A vote for Ross Perot, then, is a vote for a roll of the dice. Whatever his contemporaries may decide, history tends not to think kindly of political figures who confuse and divide rather than clarify and unite.