EVEN the rain couldn't deter an enthusiastic New England crowd who gathered for a Saturday rally in support of Texas billionaire Ross Perot.
Starting from City Hall, supporters assembled a parade of colorful floats, Scottish bagpipe players, Vietnam War veterans, and a horse-drawn wagon for the undeclared independent presidential candidate.
After the parade, Mr. Perot addressed the crowd of approximately 5,000 on Boston Common. He talked about his grassroots presidential campaign, rebuilding American cities, and reviving the national economy.
"Is there anyone here that can settle for being second best?" Perot asked. "That wouldn't hack it on the athletic field, and that won't hack it in business.
"And if we want every American to have a good job and be a taxpayer, we've got to be first and best."
During the speech, supporters cheered loudly and waved Perot signs while gay rights and anti-abortion groups staged protests.
Perot volunteers say they have gathered more than 100,000 signatures for the independent presidential candidate, enabling him to appear on the Bay State's November ballot.
A recent Boston Globe survey shows the Texas billionaire ahead of his two rivals in Massachusetts. According to the poll, conducted June 10-11, 35 percent of the respondents said they would vote for Perot, 22 percent for President Bush (R), 22 percent for Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton (D), and 18 percent undecided.
The findings also indicate Perot draws from a wide base of support, which includes 32 percent Democrats, 29 percent Republicans, and 39 percent independents.
"The voters in Massachusetts - like the voters in the rest of the country - don't like George Bush, don't like Bill Clinton. But Perot is different," says Gerry Gervinksy of KRC Communications Research, which conducted the Boston Globe poll. Even if Massachusetts residents "don't know Perot's issues positions, they don't care because he's not Bush or Clinton."
But voters here are concerned about the region's sagging economy. New England has been hit hard by the recession and many people don't like the way party politicians have responded, says L.A. Tarlin, a campaign volunteer in Perot's Boston office.
"This is a state where a lot of people are hurting, and they're seeing no national leadership," Mr. Tarlin says. "People from both parties are saying, `What have you done for me lately?' And the plain and simple answer is: Nothing much."
Analysts say it is not surprising that Perot has gained popularity in a state with shifting voting patterns.
Traditionally a Democratic state, Massachusetts is steadily gaining more independent voters. In last February's presidential primary vote, 40 percent voted as Democrats, 14 percent as Republicans, and 46 percent as independents, according to the Massachusetts Secretary of State's office.
In 1980, independent presidential candidate John Anderson won 15 percent of the Massachusetts vote, the highest percentage of votes from any state in the country.
"Party identification in Massachusetts is weakening substantially and there has always been a large independent stream of voters in Massachusetts," says Lou DiNatale, chief of staff for Bay State US Rep. Chester Atkins (D).
Representative Atkins signed Perot's nomination papers. Both he and Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn have shown an interest in the third-party presidential candidate.
"They're attracted primarily by an interest in getting the Democratic Party to take seriously the issues that Perot is raising - specifically the deficit and aid to cities," says Mr. DiNatale.
Mayor Flynn, president of the US Conference of Mayors, met with Perot before the rally to discuss Flynn's $34 billion program to revitalize cities.
Bay State political observers compare Perot to 1990 Bay State gubernatorial candidate John Silber (D). Dr. Silber, president of Boston University, drew national media attention by his forthright manner and controversial remarks. Silber won the Democratic primary but lost the general election.
"They both have this can-do, tough, authoritarian personality from the nonpolitical world and both pose as outsiders when they are really insiders," says Joseph Slavet, senior fellow at the McCormack Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.
Just as Bay State Democrats eventually threw their support to Silber in 1990, they may also do so for Perot, says Slavet.