One-time presidential candidate Ross Perot closed out a three-day convention here Sunday with a call for a new, bipartisan Contract with America to solve what he said are the government's most pressing problems.
Without giving a clue about his personal plans for the 1996 presidential race, the unpredictable Perot said Democrats and Republicans in Congress must set aside their political rancor and jointly approve by the end of the year a contract with provisions for campaign finance reform and restrictions on lobbyists, among several other measures."It would be the nicest Christmas present you could give to the American people," the Texas billionaire said.
Perot, who received 19 percent of the vote in his independent bid for the White House three years ago, never mentioned the possible creation of a third party, which many of his followers are calling for, and seemed content with press-ing existing party leaders for the changes that he and members of his United We Stand America organization want.
Perot made his comments after a procession of top Democrats - President Clinton was not among them - and 10 Republican presidential contenders addressed the conference.
Many of them delivered speeches tailored to the issues of greatest concern to Perot supporters: term limits, revoking free-trade agreements, tax reform and changes in the way Medicare and Medicaid are financed.
Nevertheless, by the end of the conference, Republicans and Democrats vying for control of the White House in next year's election were left with a crucial question: Where will Perot's followers go?
Some United We Stand America members said that, because of the time it would take to organize a third party, pushing for change within the two existing parties might be a necessary alternative.
Yet many others regard Clinton as a problem that cannot be corrected without ejecting him from the White House.
They also seem to place little faith in the leading contender for the Republican nomination, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas, who put in a lackluster performance during a Saturday speech to conventioneers.
"They're both part of the Washington system," said Therese George, an environmental engineer from Yuma, Ariz., and a supporter of term limts. "I wouldn't vote for anyone who's been in Washington as long as Bob Dole."
The opinions about Clinton and Dole may help explain why a growing number of voters are telling pollsters they are eager to see a third party emerge.