In what George Bush himself has called a 'weird election year', yesterday's events in a Dallas hotel were arguably the weirdest yet, as a re-inflated Ross Perot held court for top-level Bush and Clinton emissaries in separate meetings whose outcome will decide whether the Texas billionaire formally enters the Presidential race later this week.
Jaunty and bantering as if the fiasco of his July withdrawal from the race had never happened, Mr Perot proclaimed himself once more the 'voice of the people' and hailed what he termed a 'historic day' for US politics. And whatever the whiff of farce about the occasion, both main party candidates were treating it with deadly seriousness.
The early signs were that the Democrats were making most headway. The press conference after their encounter was notably more cheerful and upbeat than the Republican one which followed. Mr Perot himself declared there was a 'lot of commonality' between his own views on putting America to rights and those of Mr Clinton.
But the verdict must wait at least 48 hours. As Mr Perot explained it, these 'volunteer' leaders would listen and then make up their minds whether their man should run. His pronouncement will not come until Thursday at the earliest.
Exactly what the decision will be is anybody's guess. His supporters are overwhelmingly in favour of a formal candidacy, but the suspicion lingers that even at this eleventh hour, beneath the glare of the media spotlight, Mr Perot still searches for a honourable exit which would not disappoint his followers and make amends for the humilation of two-and-a-half months ago.
If he does run, the impact on the contest is quite unpredictable. Every sign is Mr Perot would not garner more than 15 per cent of the vote in November: indeed almost one American in two views him 'unfavourably', and two out of three say they do not want him back in the race. But, conceivably, he could tip the balance.
For Mr Bush the stakes are especially high. Fast running out of time to reverse Mr Clinton's commanding lead in the polls, he can ill-afford to see the entire campaign put on effective hold as Mr Perot makes up his mind. But a challenge by the Texan might equally shake up to his advantage a contest which is fast acquiring the look of a foregone conclusion.
For exactly that reason the Clinton camp would vastly prefer Mr Perot to stay out. The hallmark of the election year 1992 is less enchantment with Mr Clinton than dislike of Mr Bush. Even in a putative three-man race, Mr Clinton remains comfortably ahead. But he would be competing for the anti-Bush vote.
The most withering judgement of proceedings came from Ed Rollins, the former Republican strategist who resigned in exasperation as Mr Perot's campaign manager last July. The Texas billionaire was 'kooky', and a renewed candidacy would be no more than a dangerous distraction, he said.
'He should . . . quit tampering with our democratic process simply to massage his ego, badly bruised when the country finally learnt he wasn't the man he pretended to be, and didn't have the courage to go the distance.' But for a few days at least, the man dubbed 'The Yellow Ross of Texas' is back at the centre of everybody's attention.Reuse content