Perot campaign chief quits as poll support slumps

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ROSS PEROT'S independent - and as yet undeclared - candidacy for the White House was suddenly in danger of unravelling last night with the announcement that Ed Rollins, a co-chairman of the Perot campaign, is resigning as a result of 'insurmountable differences' with the Dallas billionaire.

Simultaneously, hours before the formal nomination of Governor Bill Clinton as their presidential nominee, the Democrats received a huge boost with a ABC TV/Washington Post poll showing Mr Clinton surging into a commanding lead. He is favoured by 45 per cent of voters, against 28 per cent for President George Bush, and 20 per cent for Mr Perot.

The departure of Mr Rollins, only 45 days after he signed up, came as a bombshell. It is the latest body blow for Mr Perot, hit by serious policy gaffes, dwindling poll ratings and widespread criticism, from Mr Rollins among others, that he had failed to set out detailed positions on key issues, and refused to take advice from senior aides.

Last weekend Mr Perot delivered a disastrous speech to the leading black organisation, the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, in which he sounded patronising and condescending towards African- Americans.

It was also reported this week that Hamilton Jordan, the other co-chairman and former chief of staff of the Democratic President Jimmy Carter, was about to quit.

However, Mr Rollins, a Republican consultant who masterminded the re-election campaign of Ronald Reagan in 1984, jumped first.

In a terse statement, Mr Rollins said he was resigning because of 'differences over overall strategy and tactics', not least over the timing of a major national advertising drive, on which Mr Perot still wants to delay. Mr Jordan is understood to be staying on, for the time being at least.

Paradoxically, the startling possibility that Mr Perot's campaign might collapse was greeted with less than joy by advisers of Mr Clinton, the Arkansas Governor. They believe that if Mr Perot stays in the race, he will hurt President Bush more than the Democrats.

But Mr Perot's popularity is evaporating as fast as it coalesced in the spring, when he briefly led the presidential race with almost 40 per cent support. The main beneficiary has been Mr Clinton as errant Democrats return to the fold.

Apart from his lack of substantive positions, Mr Perot's imperious style and refusal to delegate has deeply upset Mr Rollins and others. He is also showing no sign of progress in his search for a run ning mate.

Clinton 'bounce', page 16