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Perot's Third-Party Threat Makes Republicans Doleful

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LET'S look under the hood of a 1996 Ross Perot presidential candidacy.

First off, it looks as if the Texas billionaire may well run for the Oval Office again. He said as much to a San Antonio radio station on Tuesday. If nothing else, it's clear Mr. Perot means to play a big part in the upcoming election campaign.

But here's the rub: The man's just not as popular as he was the last time around. Polls today typically show him getting anywhere from 10 to 16 percent of the vote, as opposed to the 19 percent he won last time around. Almost twice as many people have negative feelings about him as in 1992.

Still, 10 percent isn't hayseed, especially considering that most potential Perot voters would otherwise vote in large numbers for GOP nominee Sen. Bob Dole. With his charts, his homespun wisecracks, and his deep pockets, Perot seems destined to bedevil Mr. Dole.

"Perot has the potential to be a factor, but not as dramatically as last time," says Mike Hellon, state GOP chairman in Arizona.

Few analysts are really surprised that Perot has suddenly resurfaced in US politics, just when Senator Dole wrapped up the GOP nomination and it looked as if the campaign trail would let down for a while.

After all, Perot's Reform Party has long been working on getting on the ballot in all 50 states this year, by a variety of means. Perot and his supporters have talked about holding a splashy convention in the fall, after Republican and Democratic Party meetings, to nominate a Reform Party candidate. And might that candidate be ... Perot himself?

"Let's assume the dust clears, and that's what members of this party want," Perot told a radio interviewer in Texas on Tuesday. "Then certainly, I would give it everything I have."

That last line likely sent shudders through the Dole camp, as "everything" Perot has includes a bank account as big as Texas. He spent tens of millions of his own money last time around, and many in the GOP leadership still bitterly blame Perot for costing George Bush the election.

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