Lamm Sees Third Party as Only Hope to Erase the Deficit

It took a third political party to free the slaves. It will take a third political party to balance the budget.

So argues Richard Lamm, the former governor of Colorado who is arm-wrestling Ross Perot for the Reform Party presidential nomination. Speaking at a Monitor breakfast yesterday, Mr. Lamm chides the Republicans and Democrats for being beholden to special interests and for being bereft of ideas to solve the nation's fiscal woes. "I think we need a transition," says the lifelong Democrat. "I believe that will be done by appealing to the plurality of patriotic, realistic Americans and saying, 'Look, we're leaving chaos for our children if we don't act.' "

Easier said than done, Lamm admits. To mount a credible challenge through the Reform Party, he first must secure top billing on the ticket through a process that even he finds confusing. Party members are now nominating their candidates through a write-in ballot process that concludes Saturday. The only names on the ballot are Lamm and party-founder Mr. Perot, although a blank space allows members to write in alternatives.

Reform Party members will see Lamm and Perot together for the first time Saturday at party conventions in Maine and Virginia. Lamm has challenged Perot to debate; Perot, at press time, had yet to agree. The harder task will be to convince people that backing the Reform Party in November is not a wasted vote. A new Harris Poll finds support for the party hovering around 16 percent with Perot as its candidate. With Lamm topping the ticket, support falls to 5 percent.

That low figure likely represents Lamm's minimal name recognition, but when voters hear his eat-your-peas message, they may find it hard to swallow. He argues that unless Social Security and Medicare are substantially reformed, the nation will face "a fiscal and social crisis" when the baby boom generation, to which he belongs, reaches retirement.

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