Perot Counts on Ads, TV Debates; Dallas Office in Doldrums

Phone banks that once carried `run Ross' urgings from disgruntled voters are quiet

IT'S ominously quiet at the Perot-for-President national headquarters on day two of the Class A, all-out campaign that Ross Perot promised to wage if his volunteers decided he should.

On Thursday, Mr. Perot accepted their decision: Run, Ross, Run. So where are the volunteers? A baker's dozen tend 48 telephones, and the few calls coming in to the library-quiet phone bank leave them with time on their hands.

Granted, Perot's half-hour television advertisements beginning tomorrow and his debate performances will be far more important to his intentionally unorthodox campaign than tasks carried out by volunteers. But with only 30 days left before the election, the disarray at headquarters is obvious.

In the phone bank, a couple of volunteers wonder who's still giving out an old telephone number that now rings "some lady in New Jersey." Meanwhile, staff and callers alike are upset by a newspaper story claiming that Perot opposes school prayer, so volunteer Tom Hall tries to track down the facts.

Mr. Hall says of the campaign: "There are a lot of people wearing more than one hat right now." Not like his, though. Perot campaign buttons armor-plate his baseball cap which, in speedboat style, trails a postcard-sized American flag.

Al Kellaway, credit manager for a small business, comes in and asks to buy a score of bumper stickers for his co-workers. A receptionist can scare up only a few, apologizing that she's still waiting to hear how many to order. Other staff members confer about how to prevent volunteer meetings from being prolonged by walk-ins who call for action on arcane issues.

A press assistant tersely rebuffs in-person requests for interviews with campaign staff, insisting that requests be sent in by FAX. Several were, she's told, but went unanswered. Still she declines to bend the rules, muttering, "I could lose my job."

Finally, with numerous reporters hanging around in the expectation that something should be happening, a press conference is convened by Orson Swindle, national executive director of United We Stand, America, the organization of Perot volunteers.

"I was just informed that we have an 800 number that will give you a media update, and ... I hope it's in place," Mr. Swindle says. "So if someone will go call it, we'll see if it works." (It does.)

Swindle dishes up some Perot-style invective against the major-party status quo in government: "It borders on criminal negligence. We should seriously be questioning the Democrat and Republican leadership because they are ripping us off to a fare-thee-well, folks, rest assured of that." He argues that Perot, as a true outsider, would win cuts in the federal government's discretionary spending. Gov. Bill Clinton would not, because "that's the lifeblood of the Democrat Party in Congress."

Swindle promises daily press briefings, declares that it would be "nonproductive" for Perot to try to visit all 50 states, and says the campaign will appeal to "sane Middle America, nonextremists," and "victims of special interests."

Back in the phone bank, a typed handout titled "HOW WE WILL WIN" explains that in a three-way race, if Candidate C gets a plurality of the popular vote in a state, he wins its electoral votes "and we all know who Candidate C is."

"I really feel we're going to elect the man," Hall says. "We've got voters the press hasn't heard of," like a woman who last voted for Eisenhower and called to see if she needed to reregister to vote for Perot; or a naturalized German who had never voted in this country after having been forced once to vote for Hitler.

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