Where's Perot's big mouth?

As his boosters prepare to nominate him, he's keeping quiet on his plans.

By Anthony York

Published June 30, 2000 7:00PM (EDT)

Time is running out for Ross Perot to decide whether he'll run for the Reform Party presidential nomination, but a top booster says he now has the signatures needed to put Perot's name on the ballot.

"Bascially, all of the work is done," said Ira Goodman, former head of the New Jersey Reform Party who resigned after allies of Pat Buchanan gained control last month. "I'm just waiting for Hawaii to arrive and 100 signatures from Alabama. Hopefully, when I get home from work today, I'll have it. In all likelihood, it'll be ready to go by [Friday]."

Goodman has been on a whirlwind tour this week since Salon first wrote of the plan Tuesday.

Of course, Perot must still give his consent to having his name placed on the ballot - and must do so by July 1 -- and Goodman says his conversations with Perot spokesman Russ Verney have given no hint of the Texas billionaire's intentions.

"I haven't got a clue as to what they're going to do," Goodman said. "But he's the founding father of this party and he's not going to let his child die."

"He's the head of a major corporation, their stock has been dropping recently, so I don't think it's an easy decision for him," Goodman said of Perot. "I just can't bet on what he's going to do."

Verney told Salon that he wasn't even going to approach Perot about a possible run until Goodman had qualified Perot for the ballot.

In other Reform Party news Thursday, former Buchanan campaign co-chairwoman Lenora Fulani threw her support behind scientist John Hagelin.

"I've endorsed John Hagelin because he wants to keep the party as it was originally engineered by Ross Perot and others -- a populist party that is inclusive, non-ideological and pro-reform," Fulani said in a statement Thursday. "Some in political circles have said that Mr. Hagelin's greatest virtue as a candidate is that he is not Pat Buchanan. I disagree."

When Fulani resigned from the Buchanan campaign last week, she cited the former commentator's refusal to endorse Fulani's bid for national party chairwoman as a reason. When asked if Hagelin had agreed to support Fulani's bid, her spokeswoman Sarah Lyons said, "She's not an announced candidate. That was a very particular test she put to Buchanan to see if he was serious about building a left-right coalition."

Hagelin's forces have been frantically lining up support since the surge in Perot speculation this week. Reform Party National Secretary Jim Mangia, another Buchanan foe who has been active in the Draft Ross movement, is reportedly close to endorsing Hagelin. When contacted earlier this week, Mangia said he liked what he saw from Hagelin, though he wasn't ready to endorse.

Hagelin spokesman Robert Roth said the Perot forces have been supportive of Hagelin's run as a way to stop Buchanan. "The Perot people have been encouraging," said Roth. "Verney has told us to just keep doing what we're doing." But Roth admitted he was as in the dark about Perot's possible entry as everybody else. "It'll be a shocker if he comes in, but I think he could do it."

There would certainly be historical precedent for it. In 1996, Perot all but gave his endorsement to former Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm, encouraging him to run for the party's presidential nomination. A day after Lamm declared his candidacy, Perot announced his own, and eventually won the nomination.

On the Buchanan front Thursday, members of the volunteer-based Buchanan Brigades captured and reposted the so-called "secret Web site," that Buchanan supporters said was being used to clear the way for a last-minute Perot entry.

The Web site, which included phone lists of Perot allies and a state-by-state breakdown of ballot access rules, was taken down after the Salon story was posted Tuesday, but the original site can now be seen here.

In her e-mail to Buchanan supporters Thursday, Brigade commander Linda Muller wrote that the site's webmaster, North Carolina Reform Party Chairman Dror Bar-Sadeh "is listed as a Perot Systems Associate working for the company Perot Systems as recently as May 23, 2000."

All of this last-minute confusion about the Reform Party primary is expected to be resolved as early as tomorrow, when Goodman is expected to make his announcement, and another from Perot may be forthcoming. If Perot remains silent, the race will be between Buchanan and Hagelin.

But if Perot, 70, answers the bell, a three-way party race will get a new injection of frenzy. Ballots will be printed this weekend, and sent out by mail to any registered voter who requests a ballot.

Anthony York

Anthony York is Salon's Washington correspondent.

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