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Perot Chooses Economist for Running Mate


Struggling to recapture some of the energy and viability of his 1992 presidential campaign, Reform Party candidate and political maverick Ross Perot turned Tuesday to a sometimes controversial economist and fellow trade protectionist to be his running mate.

Perot's ticket mate will be Pat Choate, 55, the son of a Texas sharecropper, onetime TRW Inc. vice president and a longtime public policy advocate who wrote the controversial 1990 book "Agents of Influence." In it, Choate detailed the efforts of Japanese industry to influence U.S. trade policy through the hiring of well-connected U.S. lobbyists.

After Perot's 1992 campaign, he and Choate shared credit for a "Save Your Job, Save Our Country: Why NAFTA Must Be Stopped--Now!"--a book attacking the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada, which was before Congress at the time.

The announcement comes at a time when Perot is foundering in the polls and facing the prospect that he may not be invited to take part in the presidential debates that are tentatively scheduled to begin this month.

Four years ago, Perot captured national attention as the quirky, blunt-talking billionaire business wizard who came out of Dallas to shake up the federal establishment by spending $60 million of his own money on his independent presidential campaign.

Perot bedeviled his opponents with his engineering-analysis approach to complex fiscal programs and dominated the campaign debate for weeks at a time--eventually collecting 19% of the vote nationwide.

But today, financed primarily by $30 million in federal funds that he claimed on the strength of his 1992 showing, and running as the head of the Reform Party he created, Perot is mired in the single digits--averaging about 6% in independent polls taken in September. He is well behind President Clinton and GOP challenger Bob Dole and only barely ahead of consumer advocate Ralph Nader, the Green Party candidate who is spending virtually no money and refusing to campaign.

Perot has lost support from some leaders of his Reform Party, who were angered by what they saw as muscle tactics that he used to win the party nomination from his opponent, former Colorado Gov. Richard D. Lamm.

"I will not support Ross Perot," said one in that camp, Mark Sturdevant of La Habra, who was the vice chairman of the Reform Party in California until he quit last month. "The novelty of Ross Perot is gone. Now he's just another candidate."

Most critical will be the debates. The Clinton campaign would like to see Perot in the debates, believing that he will cause more trouble for Dole than for the Democrats. Dole's aides have suggested that if Perot is let into the debates, Nader should be also.

The co-chairmen of the 10-member Commission on Presidential Debates said Tuesday the commission will decide by Monday, at the latest, whether to recommend that Perot, Nader or any other third-party or independent candidates join Clinton and Dole.

The commission, whose decisions are not binding on the candidates but are influential, has proposed three presidential debates and one debate among the vice presidential candidates on four successive Wednesday nights, beginning Sept. 25.

In a briefing in Washington, Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr., former Republican Party national chairman, and Paul G. Kirk Jr., former Democratic Party national chairman, who head the commission, outlined 11 criteria for inclusion in the debates, including poll standing and access to the ballot in enough states to mathematically collect the 270 electoral votes needed to win--a criterion that would rule Nader out but potentially allow in Perot, as well as the nominees of the Libertarian and Natural Law parties.

But they emphasized that a candidate must have "a realistic chance" of winning the presidency to be included.

"That, when all is said and done, is the bottom line," Fahrenkopf said.

Kirk added: "This is not a launching pad or a liftoff for a particular campaign. . . . This is the Super Bowl."

The debates were critical to Perot's campaign in 1992--boosting his standing after he withdrew from the race and then rejoined it.

Perot's public image has gone from highly favorable in 1992 to strongly negative this year, judging by a host of public opinion polls, said pollster Peter Hart. Recent polls have shown Perot with one of the most negative images of any well-known public figure.

"Back in 1992, there was much more of a sense that here was an entrepreneur, here was a creative thinker, here was a person who was unbought and unbossed. He may have seemed idiosyncratic, but it was an attractive kind of idiosyncrasy," said Hart.

"In 1996, he's gone from that to becoming a gadfly," Hart added. "He is whiny and appears at times sort of petulant."

Hart said, however, that it would be difficult for the debate commission to deny Perot a spot.

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