DALLAS — Throwing the presidential campaign into new turmoil, Ross Perot quit his independent bid for the White House on Thursday, saying that a newly revitalized Democratic Party will preclude any chances of his winning the Oval Office.
Citing his training as an engineer, Perot said his own "rational analysis" is that a three-way race would not result in a majority winner in the electoral college and would put the election into the House of Representatives. That would both disrupt the national government and, because Democrats dominate the House, doom his candidacy, he said.
"I have an obligation to do the right thing," Perot said.
Perot declined to endorse either President Bush or Democratic nominee Bill Clinton. Both candidates called Perot after his announcement and reached out to his supporters.
Bush, vacationing in Wyoming, told a news conference that "a lot of people that supported Ross want to see the kinds of changes that I want to see. . . . We want their support."
Referring to Perot's backers, Clinton said: "We have heard their message and share their hopes. I ask them to give us a fair hearing, to read our plan for putting people first. I invite them to join us in our efforts to change our country and give our government back to the people."
Perot insisted that his decision was not influenced by his plunging standing in the public opinion polls--or by the debilitating disarray that has racked his organization in recent days. On Wednesday, nearly a dozen top aides, led by veteran GOP strategist Edward J. Rollins, resigned from his campaign.
"This whole thing was motivated by love of country, not personal. You know, I don't have any drive to be President of the United States," Perot said at a mid-morning press conference at his Dallas campaign headquarters.
"When we started . . . there was a climate there where we could win outright," Perot asserted. But now, he said, "the Democratic Party has revitalized itself. They've done a brilliant job, in my opinion, in coming back."
Perot did not elaborate on that point. But Morton H. Meyerson, a longtime Perot confidant and campaign adviser, later cited the Democratic Party's platform as something that "Ross feels good about."
Meyerson added: "The Democrats seem to be listening to the people."
Perot's surprise announcement stunned his supporters throughout the country, setting off an avalanche of calls to his volunteer-staffed telephone bank here, which was to remain open at least through Monday.
The signatures Perot filed have been validated in 24 states, including California, and they are awaiting validation in seven other states. In most of those states he will remain on the ballot. But in California, Perot's electoral college voters have not been certified. Unless that process proceeds, he will not make the state's ballot, Secretary of State March Fong Eu said Thursday.
Perot urged voters in November to deliver "a unified government with a strong leader." He said his volunteers are free to go with "either candidate." But Perot also urged them to continue their drive to put his name on the November ballot as a way of keeping the political Establishment "focused" on their discontent.
The Dallas businessman also claimed a moral victory, saying: "Both political parties are now squarely focused on the issues that concern the American people. . . . Rebuilding our country--that's what the people want."
Perot did not mention Bush or Clinton by name, but he again praised former Massachusetts Sen. Paul E. Tsongas, an unsuccessful candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination who has endorsed Clinton.
"To quote Sen. Tsongas: 'There is no Santa Claus,' " Perot said. "Now, I would urge both candidates not to run on the Santa Claus theory, because they're going to get a lot of soot on them going down the chimney if they try that."
Perot also said he intends to continue speaking his mind. "I probably won't have a personality change. I'll say what's on my mind."
Perot is scheduled to appear tonight on CNN's "Larry King Live" talk show--the same program on which Perot in February said he was willing to run for President.
In his brief appearance before reporters Thursday, Perot seemed to leave an iota of a chance that he still might be persuaded to play a role in the presidential campaign, although not as a candidate.
If both political parties prove "insensitive" to the concerns of his supporters, Perot said, and "if all the volunteers call me and say, 'Look, we need to get together and figure out what to do,' certainly I owe it to them to get together with them any time they want to."
Perot did not seem embittered during his press conference, and he said he had few, if any, real regrets.
He got testy only once--when a reporter asked if he had betrayed his supporters by quitting because he could not "take the heat."
Perot snapped: "I am trying to do what's right for my country. Now, that probably makes me odd in your eyes, but that's what I'm trying to do."