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Retired Vice Adm. James Bond Stockdale, a former Vietnam war

hero and prisoner of war, is taking his latest duties one day at a time: running mate for a possible Ross Perot presidential bid.Asked what his duties would entail, Stockdale said Monday, "I don't know. I'm playing it by ear. This is the first day on the job."

Stockdale's agreement to serve as interim running mate for the Dallas billionaire allows volunteers to mount ballot petition drives on Perot's behalf in the 27 states and District of Columbia that require independent candidates to name running mates. Stockdale is a Republican.

"I'd trust him with my life," Stockdale, 68, said of Perot. "He's not a sleaze ball begging for favors."

In an appearance Tuesday on NBC "Today," Stockdale described himself as "a friend of George Bush" but said, "I think Ross is the man of the hour."

Stockdale said Perot is "dead honest" and has "had an impeccable life that will withstand any kind of scrutiny."

He said the business leader would be able to adapt to political leadership because "he's had a lot of experience with different environments besides business. . . . His knowledge of foreign affairs is significant and he has a feel for what is involved in projecting America's best side to the world."

Meanwhile, a poll conducted for the Los Angeles Times found that in a hypothetical matchup, Perot drew 21 percent to 37 percent for Bush and 35 percent for Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton.

The poll, which surveyed 1,521 adults from Friday to Sunday, had a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.

Both Perot and Stockdale said the veteran may be dropped from any official ticket, but Stockdale said he would continue in the campaign if asked.

Perot has said he'll run for president in November if supporters are able to place his name on the ballot in all 50 states. And Perot, who has lobbied on behalf of prisoners of war, said he picked Stockdale out of admiration.

"Admiral Stockdale is an outstanding American patriot who has served his country in peace and war," Perot said. "I very much appreciate his participation in this effort to let the American people be heard."