Perot’s Army Disbands As Plugs Are Pulled, Signs Come Down
DALLAS (AP) _ The phones are being taken out and the signs are coming down as volunteers box up their dreams and shut down many of Ross Perot’s campaign offices.
While die-hards are still trying to get a political movement flying - a devoted core in Arizona planned a weekend Perot rally - volunteers across the country spent Wednesday tearing down much of the foundation of the Dallas billionaire’s independent campaign.
″We’ll be working out of homes,″ vowed Las Cruces, N.M., office manager Vicki Evangelista as she emptied a donated office reclaimed by the owner after Perot dropped out.
Steve Fridrich has already moved what’s left of the Perot Tennessee operation into his real estate office, where one volunteer will try to hold on.
Charlie Hellebusch, a hospital consultant and Perot’s Kentucky state coordinator, is out looking for smaller quarters. ″They don’t know quite where we are because we don’t know where we’re going,″ he said of his Kentucky volunteers.
Rented computers have been returned in Richmond, Va., where volunteers plan to meet today to dissolve Virginians for Perot. Only three people staffed the mostly silent phones in Little Rock, Ark.
North Dakota is down to only one phone line, ″but there’s people out there who want to keep the movement alive,″ a tired-sounding Jim Kisse said.
In Oklahoma City, contributions are being taken to cover rent. ″Some way, somehow, we’ll at least have a phone,″ said Jamie Hurst.
In Louisiana, Perot offices in New Orleans, Kenner, Lake Charles, Monroe and Shreveport closed by Tuesday, leaving just the Baton Rouge office open indefinitely.
″The mood’s certainly changed,″ said Bill Arata, treasurer at Perot headquarters in Baton Rouge.
Michigan simply locked the door and called it quits for Perot.
″I terminated personally the Perot Campaign Committee and most of the offices are closing,″ said Judy Werner, the chairwoman of the Perot campaign in Michigan. She had played host for the candidate at a rally just six days before he suddenly announced last Thursday that he would not run for president.
Still, supporters in several states said Perot has paid their rent through the end of the month and they hope to work with him to influence the November election. At least one office would remain open in most states, they pledged.
″We are not closing down. We are not phasing out. It is just the opposite,″ said Debbie Collings, Perot’s Arizona spokeswoman.
In Bentonville, Ark., they passed a hat and collected $300 in 10 minutes to keep their movement going.
″Everyone that was here before is still here,″ said Kansas City, Mo., volunteer coordinator Mary Bean. ″We have collected 50 to 60 volunteers since Mr. Perot backed out.″
Defections were numerous, however. Perot’s Arizona coordinator personally carried a letter from Republican Gov. Fife Symington to Perot urging an endorsement of President Bush. The Illinois campaign chairman stopped by his former headquarters trying to recruit volunteers to work for Bush. And the Alabama coordinator took a job in the Bush campaign.
In South Carolina, Perot supporters have also formed a new group - Voice of the Electorate (VOTE) - that will discuss the federal deficit and government spending during the campaign.
In Boulder, Colo., about 50 frustrated Perot backers voted to try to form a third major political party that would be built around Perot’s ideas and inspiration and called, at least temporarily, the American Party.
The American Party already had its skeptics. ″If you try to do this, you will feel better for a while - but you will ultimately go nowhere,″ said Perot supporter John Sherwood. ″The barn is open. The horse is gone.″
Oregon organizers planned a survey to see if backers still want to push Perot’s political agenda. Perot is still not on the ballot in Oregon, and campaign director Richard Kidd said supporters may just drop petitions with 150,000 signatures and plans for a state nominating convention.
″We built an organization in Oregon that I was convinced could run and win,″ Kidd said. ″I have asked people to put their trust in me, and now I am saying, ’Sorry, I’ve got to go.‴
Merel Bonger, an employee in Perot’s Dallas media office, said she, too, had to go. ″I’m going to American,″ she said.
The American Party?
No, American Airlines, where she will begin flight attendant training Monday.