Ross Perot moved closer Friday to re-entering the presidential race, with one associate saying some form of renewed independent candidacy by the Texas billionaire "may be inevitable."
But there were strong hints from those close to Perot that he was considering only a limited effort, mainly television ads and talk-show appearances. His name already is on presidential ballots in all 50 states.President Bush and Bill Clinton reacted to the prospect of a revived Perot challenge with studied nonchalance.
"I don't have any idea what impact it will have except I'm just going to keep working," said Clinton, who leads Bush in national polls.
Bush, in an interview with a Chicago radio station, called fresh reports of a Perot candidacy "interesting," adding that "in some places people think it would help us."
Analysts generally said that Perot's re-entry could hurt Bush's chances in Texas and Florida, which together have 57 of the 270 electoral votes needed for victory. At the same time, a Perot candidacy might work against Clinton in California - the electoral prize, with 54 votes - and some battleground Midwestern states.
As strategists tried to decipher the impact of a renewed Perot candidacy, the co-chairman of a bipartisan panel on debates raised the possibility of Perot's participation in a face-off as early as next weekend.
"If Bill Clinton agrees and Ross Perot agrees and Bush doesn't, it will be just Clinton and Perot Oct. 4 in San Diego," said Frank Fahrenkopf, former Republican Party chief.
That's the next date and site that the 10-member Commission on Presidential Debates has selected for a presidential debate. So far, Clinton has signed off on the proposal, but Bush has not.
It seemed unlikely, however, that Clinton would agree to a two-way clash with Perot.
Perot, who dropped out of the race on July 16 but earlier this week said his withdrawal was a mistake, invited representatives of both the Bush and Clinton campaigns to meet with him and his volunteers Monday in Dallas.
Both campaigns were sending high-level officials to the session and, coincidentally, Bush himself was scheduled to campaign in Dallas on Monday.
Representing Bush will be his campaign chairman, Robert Teeter; national security adviser Brent Scowcroft and Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas. Representing Clinton: campaign chairman Mickey Kantor; retired Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman William Crowe; Sen. David Boren, D-Okla; and civil rights leader Vernon Jordan.
Bush said his team would urge his own deficit-reduction plan. "The subject is not restricted, as I understand it, to deficit reduction. But that will be a key subject," he said.
Perot was to appear later Monday on Cable News Network's "Larry King Live," a favorite forum for the Texas computer-industry tycoon.
The Los Angeles Times reported in Friday's editions that Perot had already made up his mind and would announce he was back in the race on the King show.
Perot spokeswoman Sharon Holman denied it. But others close to Perot said he was inching toward a decision to run and that it could come early next week.
"It may be inevitable that he has to run because those volunteers won't allow him not to," said Jim Squires, Perot's media adviser. "It may be that nothing will satisfy them but that."