IT is "five minutes to Clinton," major and informal presidential polls have been saying for weeks.
But - perhaps making a virtue of the maxim that a man with two clocks never knows what time it is - Ross Perot's campaign rejects everyone's polls except its own more favorable ones.
"The national polls have to be wrong," says Rosemarie Sax, who works in the independent candidate's Denver office. "There will be a tremendous amount of outrage" if the final vote proves that the polls undercounted support for Mr. Perot, she says. End of campaign
Perot concludes his campaign with a personal appearance at a rally in Dallas today, followed by campaign programs tonight during prime time on the three major television networks.
Perot appeared Sunday on MTV and at rallies in Florida, Missouri, and California. He also attacked the economic policies of his opponents in a half-hour program called "Chicken Feathers, Voodoo Economics, and the American Dream."
The Dallas billionaire has spent in excess of $60 million of his own money on his campaign. Much of that went to buy half-hour- or hour-long programs on network television. But local officials complain that sometimes local affiliates have preempted those broadcasts.
For instance, last Monday the ABC affiliate in Denver moved a program from 6 p.m. to 9 a.m. the next day. Tuesday in Denver, the CBS affiliate delayed until after midnight a program that was supposed to air at 7 p.m.
On Thursday in Austin, CBS affiliate KTBC ran "Cheers" at 10:30 p.m., even though Perot had paid CBS in New York for a program at that time. Perot's program ran at 12:30 a.m. instead.
"CBS delivered, I'm sure, exactly what they said they would to Mr. Perot," says Gus Stewart, who handles political advertising for KTBC. Mr. Stewart says KTBC did not air Perot's program at 10:30 because it never airs CBS programs then.
"I don't think they did it on purpose to hurt Perot," says Rusty Korman in Perot's Austin campaign office. But the reshuffling meant that the programs were not seen and thus could not win new support, he says.
The discrepancy between their own findings and those of nonpartisan professional pollsters is genuinely bewildering, Perot's volunteers say, but they remain confident that their polls are fairer and more accurate.
The Perot campaign has been predicting a victory in Colorado since last week, when volunteers took a straw poll of 2,082 people in Denver's malls and downtown streets. They found 48 percent support for their candidate, with Bill Clinton second and George Bush third. "I think [Perot] will take Colorado," Ms. Sax says.
Annette Espinoza, who works on the city desk of the Denver Post, disagrees. "Perot is definitely not leading in our state," she says. Ms. Espinoza cites the Post's tracking poll of 400 people randomly interviewed by telephone from Oct. 21-29: Governor Clinton, 43 percent; President Bush, 29 percent; Perot, 20 percent; undecided, 7 percent.
Mr. Korman says the national polls are flawed by the way they screen out responses from some voters, such as people who haven't voted before or people who weren't registered before the primary. During the early voting period in Texas, a 92-year-old woman who had never voted before cast a vote for Perot.
"I'm more convinced than ever that he's got an incredible chance to win," Korman says, "but I'm concerned that the media is trying to destroy him. What percent is he going to lose of people who believe the other polls?"
That's exactly what should concern the Perot campaign right now, says Clifford Brown, a political scientist at Union College in Albany, N.Y.
Dr. Brown, who advised John Anderson's 1980 independent campaign, says Mr. Anderson's support melted away as voters used their ballots instead to try to determine the outcome between the two front-runners. Will support hold?
Anderson received only 7 percent of the popular vote, compared with indicated support of 25 percent the previous spring, Brown says. And while Perot has more money, Anderson was an established political figure, having been a GOP leader in the House of Representatives.
Perot needed to climb in the polls last week to show that he was in contention, Brown says. Had he reached within striking distance of Bush, "it could have been anybody's ballgame."
Although polling data have been criticized as the least useful information given to voters, Brown says the data are helpful in a three-way race. "Polls will sort out whom the race is between. They've done it here. The race is between Bush and Clinton." At that point, Brown adds, anyone voting for Perot has to feel strongly that his vote sends a message.