Dole play for Perot is dismissed

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The Independent Online
Texas billionaire Ross Perot said yesterday he was in the presidential race to stay, characterising as "weird and totally inconsequential" efforts by Bob Dole to persuade him to drop out.

Perot said he would not discuss details of a meeting on Wednesday with Dole campaign manager Scott Reed where he was reportedly asked to step aside. But he said, "Do I intend to campaign to the bitter end? Yes."

Dole declined yesterday to answer questions about the overture. As he left his Florida hotel, the Republican nominee joked: "If you see Ross Perot, call me," and then ducked into his waiting car.

The calculation of the Republican challenger, who trails the President by 15 points or more, is that Perot votes could make the difference in a handful of closely fought states which he must take to have the remotest chance of pulling off an upset win on November 5.

But there is no guarantee that a Perot endorsement would make any difference to Mr Dole's final tally. In 1992 Mr Perot captured 19 per cent of the vote, but he is now running at between 5 and 8 per cent in the polls. Nor would his followers necessarily back Mr Dole. Four years ago he drew support from Democrats and Republicans in equal number.

But Perot has not forgiven Dole for keeping him out of the Presidential debates this year - an exclusion which has deprived him of an essential platform and greatly reduced his public impact on the election campaign.

While the Clinton camp would have been delighted for Mr Perot to take part, Mr Dole insisted that a third party presence would only muddy the argument between himself and the President - and split the opposition to Mr Clinton in the process.

In vain, Mr Perot tried to persuade the courts to reverse the decision of the Presidential Debates commission, before warning that Mr Dole's stance would not be forgotten.