Perot to send candidate to White House in '96 Takes on 'ambitious' task with Independence Party

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON Teetotalers in fury against demon rum. Farmers in overalls against Wall Street. Abolitionists in arms over the evils of human bondage.

And now Ross Perot is ready to march into history with the Anti-Masons, Free-Soilers, Know-Nothings, Greenbacks, Populists, Socialists, Communists, States Righters, Libertarians, and the rest of the 200 ''third parties'' that have looked at the Republicans and Democrats and offered a pox on both their houses.

Not since Abraham Lincoln and the GOP replaced a Whig Party disintegrating over the question of slavery has a new party made it to the White House, although some of them have made a difference in trying. Only six have even won more than a million votes, and none has carried a single state since 1968.

What Perot is talking about doing in 1996 is far more ambitious than what he did in 1992, when he won 19 million votes at a cost of about $64 million from his own wallet.

That time he ran as an independent. This time he wants to start a new Independence Party, its candidate still to be determined.

But Perot is foregoing building a party that would run candidates for offices at all levels, at least for now. That dismays political scientists, who for years have drummed into students' heads that there's nothing sacred about the two-party system.

Theodore Lowi of Cornell, former president of the American Political Science Association and long an advocate of new parties, said a lone-ranger president would be unable to get much done without his own loyalists in Congress.

''It can't be a single bullet presidency,'' Lowi said. ''Even if they happen to win, they've got nobody to govern with. Even Ross Perot couldn't handle that. He'd be likely to resign after three months.''

But running thousands of candidates would be formidable. It would require the petition signatures of 1.65 million Americans, says Richard Winger of Ballot Access News in San Francisco. Walter Dean Burnham of the University of Texas guesses it would cost half a billion dollars or more.

Laws, which vary from state to state and change from year to year, make it tough.

''It's a massively complicated machine whose function is to try to keep third-party candidates and parties off the ballot,'' says Bill Winter of the Libertarian Party. His party's 291,627 votes in 1992 make it the nation's biggest continuous third party.

Another problem is Perot's constituency. It is middle-American, united chiefly by discontent.

''This is a centrist operation,'' Burnham said. ''When is the last time you saw a really passionate centrist?''

John B. Anderson, a former Republican congressman from Illinois, tried to organize a new party in 1981, after running futilely as an independent in 1980. He gave up.

He needed the signatures of 800,000 Californians to get on the ballot there and signed up only 1,000. Now Perot is trying the same trick, with better financing. He has only has a month to meet California's extra-early deadline for getting 89,000 people to register for the new party.

After Dixiecrat candidate Strom Thurmond and left-leaning Progressive Henry Wallace ran and lost in 1948, their constituencies dissolved, leaving little residue.

Since Lincoln in 1864, only five third-party candidates have carried even a single state. George Wallace, an anti-desegregationist who complained about ''pointy-headed bureaucrats,'' was the last, in 1968. He carried five.

But parties can lose and still matter. The Prohibitionists had to accept the return of booze, but their other ideas took hold.

They were the first to accept women as convention delegates and to advocate women's suffrage, the direct election of senators, the income tax, the prohibition of child labor and the creation of old-age pensions. Because they had a party, not just a candidate, their ideas marched on even if they did not.

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