Perot Party Leaps the First of 49 Hurdles for '96 Race

Article excerpt

FOR three weeks, they canvassed malls, beaches, and swapmeets across the state. They made phone calls, put inserts in newspapers and stuffed mailboxes with flyers, urging voters to join in.

Now organizers for Ross Perot's "United We Stand, America" say they have cleared the first hurdle in the race to form a third party, which holds important implications for the '96 race, especially here in California.

But organizers have a long way to go before a third party president can appear on the ballot. There are still 49 states to tackle. And the ultimate impact of a third-party movement on American politics depends on the party's longevity and its ability to register candidates for local and state elections.

"There are 50 different legal thickets that this party has to wade through and fight to get itself up and functioning as a political party," says Steven Schier, political scientist at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn. "Yes, they have walked the first mile," he says, "but it's the first mile on a trip from L.A. to New York."

Organizers say they are up to the challenge. After declaring they had easily met the Oct. 24 deadline for placing the Reform Party on the 1996 presidential ballot in California, volunteers have turned their attention to launching similar drives in Ohio, Maine, Arkansas, North Dakota, and South Carolina.

"We have provided the vehicle for the next George Washington to have his or her name on the ballot and have funding to run for president without begging money from special interests," says Russell Verney, executive director of United We Stand, America, the political organization formed in the wake of Mr. Perot's 1992 campaign. He says the party will look to millions of people to contribute modest amounts so that only the public, not political action committees, will have influence on government.

A one-page summation of party principles is already circulating, including new ethical standards for government officials, the push for a balanced budget, campaign and tax reform, term limit proposals, lobbying restrictions, and new plans for Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

But observers say it is unclear how nominees would be formally selected in the new party. "At this point, anyone can say they are a candidate for the Reform Party and {members} have no legal authority to stop them," says Mr. Schier. "The issue of how they can control that and become coherent as a party is still open."

For now, the Reform Party says it will nominate only a presidential candidate for 1996 elections. …