Perot loses control of party to ex-wrestler governor

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The Independent Online
THE TEXAN billionaire, Ross Perot, whose bid for the United States presidency in 1992 drove a wedge through the two-party political system, has lost control of the party he founded and is unlikely to have another run at the White House.

Mr Perot's reign came to an end on Sunday with the election at the Reform Party's annual convention at Dearborn, Michigan, of Jack Gargan, 68, as chairman. The retired financier, from Florida, was backed by Mr Perot's chief rival, Jesse Ventura.

Mr Gargan won two-thirds of the vote in a run-off with the vice-chairman, Pat Benjamin, who was backed by Mr Perot. Mr Ventura, the former wrestler who was elected governor of Minnesota last year, has used his success to argue that the Reform Party needs a new leadership, a new direction, and above all a new presidential candidate. Mr Perot took 9 per cent of the vote in the 1996 presidential race, compared with 15 per cent in 1992.

After his election, Mr Gargan repeated his pledge not to support another presidential run by Mr Perot, leaving open the possibility of a candidate from outside party ranks. Among those mentioned have been Pat Buchanan, the right-wing protectionist talk-show host, and Senator John McCain, who is joint sponsor of legislation to reform election financing. General Colin Powell, head of the joint chiefs of staff during the Gulf war, has also been named.

None of these has indicated whether they would be interested in standing on the Reform Party's ticket. Nor may they get the chance. Under rule changes agreed by the convention, the party's next presidential candidate will be selected by a postal ballot of members - which in theory could give Mr Perot the nomination again.

While the nomination process is convoluted, there is much riding on it. If the party can unite behind a single high-profile candidate, it has the potential to split the Republican vote and perhaps deprive the Republican nominee of victory - as happened in 1992 when President George Bush might well have been re-elected but for the votes taken by Mr Perot.

Mr Ventura has ruled himself out of running for President next year, saying that he promised Minnesota voters that he would serve out his term as governor. Not someone to be modest about his ambitions, however, he has not excluded running for President at a later date.