Ross Perot is out on the campaign trail again, his short-term goal to influence the 1994 congressional and state elections, his long-term goal still a tightly wrapped secret.
After lying low politically for the better part of a year after a precipitous drop in the polls and a high-profile failure to defeat the North American Free Trade Agreement, he thundered noisily back into public view this weekend, beginning here on Friday night with the first of 10 rallies leading up to the Nov. 8 elections.Preaching to a crowd that, like most Perot audiences, was made up mainly of partisans, he loosed one of his most acidic attacks ever on President Clinton, accusing him of stupid and dishonest handling of government.
Then he warned: "The people are deeply interested in being the owners of the greatest nation in the history of man."
Saturday, he followed with a second rally in St. Louis. Other rallies will be held in California, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York and Washington state, followed by a series of several dozen call-in broadcasts on radio stations scattered coast to coast.
Given Perot's drop in the polls since he won 18.8 percent of the vote in the 1992 presidential election, and given recent insistent bickering within his organization, United We Stand America, his comeback is by no means assured. But the cocky Texan was the very picture of confidence as he strode the stage of the Civic Auditorium here for an hour on Friday night.
"You and I together," he told 1,500 whooping supporters in his reedy twang, "can slow down the race to big government in 1994 if we commit ourselves to do it. We can do even more in 1996. We are not going to go away. We are alive and well."
He did not elaborate on his reference to 1996, thereby leaving still tantalizingly unanswered what presidential plans he might have and how much more of his huge personal fortune he might be willing to commit to politics. He spent more than $60 million in 1992.
Nor did he make clear exactly which candidates he wanted United We Stand America to back this fall or whether he might eventually transform the loosely knit and sometimes unruly group into a full-fledged third party, a move that would cost the organization its tax-free status.
Rather, he spoke only of playing a swing-vote role, boasting that the Perot vote already had been the deciding factor in a number of contests in Georgia, New Jersey and Texas.
"We're going to stir things up and be the swing vote in '94," he said, "to see that in every single race the best candidate wins."
In the aftermath of the bitter NAFTA fight, Perot's political negatives have gone up in the polls as his popularity has declined.
And while the polls show 20 percent or more of all voters still support the populist, reform-oriented goals he espoused, many of those now express doubts about his ability to serve as president.
"I voted for him in '92 and like and support everything he stands for," Kay Jakowich, a Denver bookkeeper, said during the rally here. "But I've concluded he's not personally the man to be president. He's good at being a businessman and speaking out. But political leadership and stability are not his strong suit. That's become clear."
Perot dismisses the bickering in United We Stand America as "just growing pains" in a new organization.
And, he made one thing clear: President Clinton has risen to the top of his political enemies list.
He called the Clinton crime bill "stupid," labeled the Clinton health care package "a heart attack" and accused the administration of "lying" about shortcomings in NAFTA. Then Perot asserted that Clinton should abandon any plans for invading Haiti "since as a young man during Vietnam he refused to risk his life."