AUSTIN, TEXAS — LIKE water buckets at a fire, 90 boxes of "Perot for President" petitions were passed by volunteers to a bunting-swathed podium on the state capitol grounds. There Secretary of State John Hannah accepted the 222,285 signatures - four times more than necessary to put Ross Perot on the ballot in Texas.
Mr. Perot used the occasion - meeting the May 11 petition deadline - to address a major rally of supporters for the first time. The crowd of 3,000 seemed undecided over whether to chant "Run, Ross, Run," or to switch to "Go, Ross, Go," on the assumption that the Dallas billionaire already is running.
Perot has said he will not declare his candidacy until volunteers put him on the ballot in all 50 states. Once Mr. Hannah certifies the Texas signatures, 47 states will remain.
But Texas was the biggest hurdle, with its large signature requirement and early deadline for submission. That's why people like Ed Reynolds, who collected the most signatures (2,300), stood at major intersections, visited the Internal Revenue Service center on April 15, and hung out for weeks at WalMart.
"Very patriotic people go to WalMart," said Mr. Reynolds, who is living on his savings so he can remain an unpaid volunteer for Perot.
At the May 11 rally, following the Lord's Prayer, the National Anthem, and the Pledge of Allegiance, Perot dared the volunteers to do more. "If you're going to quit, quit today," he said, drawing a huge "No!"
Later in his brief speech, Perot looked at the nearly unbroken expanse of Anglo faces and said, "We are a melting pot." That drew a surprised silence, except for a lone "All right!" Perot continued: "If you hate other people, I don't want your vote. It's that simple."
Perot also told the crowd, whose "Ross for Boss" T-shirts were sewn in Mexico, that he wanted "Made in America" to be "the world's standard of excellence."
After the rally Mike Deans, a white Vietnam War veteran from Houston, pushing "Sugarbear," a black Vietnam veteran in a wheelchair, said, "America - white and black - we're going to vote for Ross Perot."
Wanda Hawkins, a San Antonio grandmother who voted for Bush last time, said the president "hasn't done anything for us. He's too interested in doing things for Russia."
William van Uchelen, a geophysical consultant from Houston, said, "This country is bleeding to death financially. We need a businessman in the White House."
Dallasite Toni Lipsky, who used to march in anti-Vietnam War rallies in Central Park, didn't mind that Perot had been on the other side then. "Whatever his positions are, I support his business [background] as opposed to political machines," she said.
Adrian Biggs of Houston, one of the few African-Americans at the Perot rally, said, "I like his attitude and what he stands for." Asked what that is, she hesitated and then replied, "Change."