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Stunned Backers Seeking Answers To Perot Pullout

Incipient presidential candidate pulled out before making public his positions on issues

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Davis, a Reagan Republican who hasn't forgiven Bush for breaking his pledge on taxes, worked on the campaign of Republican candidate Patrick Buchanan for a while. He switched to the draft-Perot movement after reading about it on the political bulletin board on the Prodigy computer network.

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"Obviously I didn't know Ross Perot well enough," he said. Calling the almost-candidate's sudden decision "weird" and "irrational," Davis asked: "Would you want to let this guy have his hand on the [nuclear attack] button?" Quick move questioned

One question that tormented Perot volunteers was why their hero quit so soon. The mere aroma five months ago of a Perot candidacy had earned the active, dedicated support of four times as many people as voted for the Libertarian Party's presidential candidate in 1980, its best year. "It's just been a remarkable phenomenon," Hicks says.

Further, more than three months remain until election day. Perot may have been down in the polls, but that was to be expected because of the convention boost, Hicks says. Anything could happen - which is why Hicks and others don't buy Perot's argument that he had no chance of winning against Republicans and "revitalized" Democrats, and that therefore it was in the country's interest that he not run.

"I really felt that if [Perot] were going to drop it, [he] should have held off maybe to October," Hicks said. "There's no question that a lot more could happen." What, for instance, might have been the effect of a three-way debate? Of further revelations about Clinton or gaffes by Dan Quayle? Perot `just got fed up'

John McDonald, a retired Marine Corps officer who worked as a volunteer in the Perot campaign's Dallas headquarters, added: "He should have stayed a bit longer. I think that's the way we all feel."

Hicks's conclusion: "I think he just got fed up with it."

A remorseless Perot repeated his public stance on national television Friday evening. As for the sacrifices made by his volunteers, he reluctantly hinted at compensation on a case-by-case basis.

Meanwhile, Republicans and Democrats are celebrating, each in the expectation of gaining Perot's supporters.

"With Perot in the race, Bush was getting clobbered from two sides," says Fred Meyer, chairman of the Republican Party of Texas. "We had to do what we could to get it down to a two-person race. The Democrats said nothing but nice things about the third candidate in the race. It made more difference to us than it did to them."

With Perot out, Mr. Meyer says, Bush's reelection chances "have improved substantially."

Robert Slagle, Meyer's Democratic counterpart in Texas, disagrees.

"Most people leaning toward Perot are not willing to go back to Bush," he says. "Perot did us an enormous favor when he got in to start with. He legitimized for a lot of people who had voted for Bush in '88 that Bush's presidency was a failed presidency from the standpoint of jobs and economics."

"You've got two-thirds of Texans agreeing on one thing: George Bush shouldn't be reelected president," Slagle says.

Perot's supporters seem to be struggling over a decision that, five days ago, they never expected to face.

"I wish we had in blood a promise from Governor Clinton that he is as worried about the deficit and the financial situation as Mr. Perot is," says Mr. McDonald, the Dallas volunteer. "If he is, I haven't read it yet."

"It's one thing to say the right words at this point and another to implement them at this time next year should Mr. Clinton be elected," McDonald adds. "That's where everybody has a problem."

In Houston, McCorquodale says, "I haven't had time to get over this, much less think who else I might vote for. I want to support Ross Perot."