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Campaign entrepreneur still profits without Perot


Jack McGrath met Ross Perot for the first time in mid-April.

Perot was appearing on Larry King's show in Los Angeles, which is where McGrath lives.

So McGrath went down to CNN studios in Hollywood and waited outside the doors for Perot to come out.

The back doors of CNN are a favorite haunt of celebrity watchers, and McGrath stood there with a bunch of "Go Perot" T-shirts, which he was selling for 12 bucks a piece.

"Perot gets one free, of course," McGrath told me. "And his wife."

McGrath was far from just a T-shirt salesman, however. He had registered 1-800-GO-PEROT as a phone number, had written a "Go Perot" song ("Go, Perot, go" was the chief refrain), had videotaped a large Perot rally for later distribution as a video cassette and had registered with the Federal Elections Commission as the "Ross for Boss Committee: Jack McGrath, Treasurer."

He had done all this without any formal ties to the Perot campaign (technically speaking, there was no Perot campaign), had never talked to Perot, and was here at CNN to see him in the flesh for the first time.

A few minutes after the Larry King show ended, Perot pushed open the glass doors of the CNN building and walked down the steps to where McGrath and a few others were waiting. (I was there along with a radio guy and a reporter from a suburban newspaper. Perot was not yet a mega-story, although this was only a few weeks away.)

McGrath stepped forward and shoved two T-shirts at Perot.

"Mr. Perot," McGrath said, "these are for you."

Perot smiled as if he had just been handed the Crown Jewels of England (which, for all I know, he already owns.)

"Terrific," Perot said.

"Hope you enjoy it," McGrath said. "We're working hard for you."

Perot grasped McGrath's hand. "I appreciate all you're doing for this country," Perot said.

It struck me that this was a pretty good sign of Perot's towering ego: A guy says he's working for you, and you thank him for trying to save America.

In any case, Perot got into his limousine and took off.

And McGrath went back to doing what he had been doing ever since he first heard Perot on Larry King: trying to assemble Perot supporters into some kind of organized force.

McGrath was no political amateur: He worked in Bobby Kennedy's presidential campaign as a college student and had gone on to work in California congressional and Los Angeles City Council campaigns.

He was also keeping track of the people who called his 800 number, not just to try and sell them T-shirts, but also to assemble a "data base" for future mailings and phone calls. Modern campaigns live by data bases and they can be worth a lot of money.

So when Perot dropped out of the presidential race last week, I called McGrath and asked him what he was going to do now.

"People are still calling the 800 number like crazy," McGrath said. "And we are still going ahead with the convention."

The convention?

"Yes," McGrath said. "The Perot Convention will be from Aug. 28 to 30 at the Burbank Convention Center."

You don't have a candidate, I pointed out.

"Doesn't matter," McGrath said. "Perot is a symbol of the discontent of this nation. That is what we are organizing."

Is Perot going to show up?

"We are not even going to ask him to come," McGrath said. "We might ask him to do a satellite appearance from wherever the hell he is. But it doesn't matter if he does it or not."

Are you angry with him?

"At first I was furious," McGrath said. "He let down a lot of people. But I figure what he is really doing is going underground. He is on enough ballots already to win this thing in November."

Well, maybe, I said. But what are you going to do with that data base of phone numbers?

"Another political campaign might be interested," McGrath said. "George Bush says he is trying to reach Perot supporters. Well, fTC an operative of the Bush campaign has been in touch with me, and has already asked me about the 16,000 phone numbers I have."

Wait a second, I said. You'd actually sell a list of Ross Perot supporters to George Bush?

"Hey," McGrath said. "Whatever else I am, I am also an entrepreneur."

And you know what? I think Ross would understand.

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