Ten Republican presidential wannabees made deep bows Saturday to Ross Perot and his grass-roots political group as each aspirant tried to explain why he should get the support of Perot's followers next year.
Some speakers also delivered another message viewed as crucial to Republican presidential fortunes in 1996: Perot doesn't have to run for president next year in order for his political goals to be attained.The crowd of 5,000 at the Dallas Convention Center responded enthusiastically when speakers unleashed hard-edged anti-Wash-ing-ton rhetoric, bashed the income tax or pounded the United Nations.
The all-day Republican parade before members of Perot's United We Stand America (UWSA) began in the morning with former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander and ended in the evening with a pitch by Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter.
Perot relished his role as master of ceremonies, introducing each speaker, thanking him when he had finished and bringing up the candidate's wife and family when they were there.
The GOP hopefuls emphasized topics that are popular with Perot's supporters. They stressed the need to balance the federal budget, reform the political and campaign-finance systems, stop the flow of U.S. jobs overseas, limit terms of office and rein in the federal government.
The three-day event ends Sunday.
One Perot supporter described Saturday's cavalcade of presidential hopefuls as "a political debutante ball."
Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas, who leads in virtually every popularity survey of the Republican field, said the candidates came to court Perot's supporters because they symbolize the independent voters who will be highly influential in 1996.
Of the early speakers, Dole and Patrick J. Buchanan won the biggest applause.
Buchanan, a conservative columnist who had challenged President Bush in 1992, responded with a fiery speech in which he vowed to lead the "battles to restore America's sovereignty," attacked restoration of U.S. diplomatic relations with Vietnam, and pledged that, if elected, "young Americans will never again be sent into battle except under American officers and to fight under the American flag."
Buchanan had the crowd on its feet again when he criticized the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), and what he called a "$50 billion bailout of Mexico City."
His election, Buchanan said, would result in "the new world order crushing down" and the beginning of a new era of "living for our country first."
Dole, 72, a wounded veteran of World War II, seemed to connect with the many senior citizens in the crowd when he described how he made his decision to seek the presidency while visiting the beaches of Normandy during 1994's 50th anniversary of the D-Day invasion there.
"Maybe there's one more call for my generation," he said.
Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, in remarks prepared for delivery late Saturday, said the nation needs a leader with "the courage to tell people the truth, to find real solutions to the problems we face and who is tough to get that job done."
Gramm described what America would look like on Jan. 1, 2001, if "you choose me to be your next president."