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Perot Attacks Dole for Debate Exclusion

September 23, 1996|DAVID WILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Reform Party presidential candidate Ross Perot, angered at his exclusion from two upcoming presidential debates, singled out Bob Dole for blame Sunday and questioned the courage of the Republican nominee.

"Here's a guy who's supposed to be a war hero," Perot said of Dole, who was severely wounded in World War II. "You'd think he'd be able to stand up and talk to another person. But he can't."

Perot, appearing on NBC-TV's "Meet the Press," signaled that "millions" of his followers now might be more inclined to back Democratic candidates over Republicans in races crucial to determining whether the GOP will retain control of Congress this fall.

He asserted that Dole's resistance to his inclusion in the debates has "poisoned" the views of many swing voters. "We put the Republican Party in power in the House and Senate in 1994. It is going to be very, very, very difficult to get any independent voter excited about Republicans because of what . . . Bob Dole did."

Perot did not win a single state running as an independent presidential candidate in 1992, but he did capture 19% of the vote nationally. On Sunday, he insisted that his current lackluster standing in opinion polls, hovering at 5% to 8%, could be reversed if he is included in the debates.

The Texas billionaire reiterated that his representatives will go to court today to challenge his exclusion from the debates, scheduled for Oct. 6 in Hartford, Conn., and Oct. 16 in San Diego. Representatives of President Clinton and Dole agreed on terms for the debates Saturday, following a recommendation from a commission of five Democrats and five Republicans to limit participants to the president and his GOP challenger.

Campaigning in northern Illinois on Sunday, Dole responded to Perot's remarks by disclaiming responsibility for the decision on debate participants. "I'm not on the commission," he said.

The commission's recommendation could have been ignored, however, and it was the Dole campaign that vehemently opposed including Perot in the debates as the details were ironed out. Dole and his aides believe that one-on-one encounters with Clinton will best help the GOP nominee narrow the wide lead Clinton holds in polls.

In other campaign jousting Sunday, supporters of Dole and Clinton discussed illegal drug use--how to stop it and who might be responsible for its upsurge. Certain Senate votes by Dole to curtail the budget of the White House anti-drug office came under attack, as did Clinton's televised remark from 1992 that he "wished" he had inhaled marijuana.

That remark has become a staple of a Dole ad campaign that claims it betrays an attitude on the president's part that has contributed to an increase in drug use by children during his first term.

William J. Bennett, a Dole backer and former White House "drug czar," said on ABC-TV's "This Week With David Brinkley": "I wish [Clinton] could develop the same type of animus toward the Cali cartel that he has toward Philip Morris."

Dole's one campaign event of the day was in Grayslake, Ill., where he continued attacking Clinton's attempt to enact health care reform, a bid that turned into a colossal blunder that helped cost Democrats control of Congress in the 1994 elections.

Dole said the president, if reelected, may well "take another shot at a government takeover" of the nation's $1-trillion health system.

The targeting of Clinton's health care measure is part of an emerging effort by Dole to remind voters of the president's "liberal roots."

Times staff writer Edwin Chen in Illinois contributed to this story.

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