|H. Ross Perot's third-party campaign offers Ron Paul and others both a way forward and a warning.|
DALLAS ( MainStreet) -- The primaries were drawing to a close, populist anger over the deficit and foreign trade were reaching their peak and American voters were facing a choice between an incumbent they weren't keen on and an opposing field of candidates that wasn't providing much inspiration. This was the backdrop Feb. 20, 1992, when Texas information technology billionaire H. Ross Perot went before the cameras of CNN's Larry King Live and strongly suggested he'd make an independent run for the presidency if volunteers would get him on the ballot in all 50 states. He'd never been a politician, but Perot shared burgeoning American sentiment against the nearly $300 billion national deficit, the proposed North American Free Trade Agreement and then-President George H.W. Bush's administration.
"There was a high degree of frustration among Americans with their government," says Carolyn Barta, political reporter and columnist for The Dallas Morning News, journalism professor at Southern Methodist University and author of the 1997 book Perot And His People: Disrupting The Balance of Political Power. "To most Americans, government is not working. They're dissatisfied with Congress, they're dissatisfied with the president, they're frustrated and Perot showed that government was growing irrelevant to Americans." With little more than a phone bank, a field of volunteers and appearances on talk shows such as Donohue, The Today Show, Face The Nation and Meet The Press -- where Perot's prickly temper first surfaced during an argument over budget numbers with host Tim Russert -- Perot took a platform of Medicare and Social Security cuts "for people who don't need it," limited Congressional spending, slashed government waste and tax reform that included a tax hike for the wealthy and a 50-cent federal gas tax directly to the public. By May, Perot was not only on the ballot across the country, but was considered the front-runner by a Time magazine poll that game him 37% of the vote and Bush and Democratic challenger Bill Clinton 24% apiece. Gerald Posner, an attorney, investigative journalist and author of the 1996 Perot biography Citizen Perot: His Life and Times, says Perot is likely pulling his hair out amid a projected $1.1 trillion deficit, a diminishing American trade position and a campaign field eerily similar to the one he faced 20 years ago.