Perot turns tables as talk show host

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Almost three years ago, a bristling billionaire from Texas called Ross Perot announced his candidacy for the White House when he appeared as a guest on the CNN television show, Larry King Live. He went on to win 19 per cent of the vote, handing the presidency from George Bush to Bill Clinton.

Earlier this week, the wheel turned full circle. Mr Perot took over Mr King's chair for a night and spent half the show trying to persuade his guest, Bob Dole, the Republican Senate majority leader seen as the front-runner for his party's nomination in 1996, to follow his example.

And the Texan got his little scoop. "Yes, I think it's probably going to happen," Mr Dole said, in the clearest statement of his intentions, before turning the tables on Mr Perot: "Maybe I should ask you that question too."

A 1996 Perot run is still a possibility. But Mr Dole was voicing a deeper truth. In today's electronic America, two once separate professions have blurred into a single interactive babble.

A politician's raw material is talk, and to a large extent the raw material of the talk show host is politics. The protagonists change hats with hardly an eyebrow raised.

Mr Perot is a politician metamorphosing into a talk show host - as opposed to talk show stars who run for the White House. Last time around the conservative columnist Pat Buchanan did exactly that, and could yet try again.

And who replaced Buchanan when he temporarily stepped down in 1992 as co-host on CNN's Crossfire show? None other than John Sununu, sacked just a month or so earlier as chief of staff to George Bush, whom Mr Buchanan was challenging.

The revolving door spins with bewildering speed. Douglas Wilder, one of Bill Clinton's 1992 challengers, now hosts a talk show in Virginia, where he was governor until last January.

At least Mr Wilder is a Democrat, unlike several other political celebrities to be heard on the airwaves of the Old Dominion. Oliver North, the Iran-Contra villain who lost his challenge to become Virginia's second Republican Senator last November, has his own show.

The process seems destined to continue. Mary Matalin, political director of Mr Bush's abysmal re-election campaign, has found a lucrative new life as a cable television talk queen. She may soon have a new co- hostess in Dee Dee Myers.

Ms Myers was equally unsuccessful as Mr Clinton's first White House press secretary before her resignation in December.

But that is no obstacle to a glittering chat career, where the most important qualifications are a quick mind, pleasing manner and a way with words. Indeed it might provide a slot for Mr Clinton, should things go wrong in 1996.