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Perot appears to be keeping door open for '96


WASHINGTON -- As his prospects continue to dim for a win in Election Year '92, independent candidate Ross Perot appears to be keeping the door open for a run for the White House in 1996.

In an interview with David Frost that airs tonight on PBS, part of a 90-minute special on all three presidential candidates, the Texas billionaire was asked if he would run again. Mr. Perot said he isn't thinking that way right now, but he adds: "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

Mr. Perot has been falling in the polls ever since last weekend when, recharging the image of him as a paranoid conspiracy-theoretician, he told rally audiences and "60 Minutes" that he quit the race last summer because of reports that the Bush campaign was planning to smear his daughter and disrupt her wedding.

In last night's NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, Mr. Perot's support fell to 11 percent -- down four points in the previous 24 hours -- and the plain-speaking businessman is now trailing front-runner Bill Clinton by more than 30 points in most national polls.

Appearing on CNN's "Larry King Live" last night, Mr. Perot said that he now believed his appearance on last Sunday's "60 Minutes" program was a mistake. Asked if he would agree to the interview if he had it to do over again, he said, "Absolutely not. . . . By the time it got edited, cut and pasted, it's a big variation."

But while Mr. Perot has acknowledge he has no proof of Republican dirty tricks planned against him and has said he accepts the Bush camp's flat denial of the charges, he suggested he still believed them.

"Is it thinkable these wonderful people in the Republican party might do that?" he asked on CNN last night. "This is the same party that gave us Watergate. This is the same party that gave us Iran-contra. This is the same party that is up to its ears in Iraqgate now. . . . There's a pattern here."

He also tried to dispel the notion that a vote for him is a wasted vote by saying that a vote for George Bush is the real wasted vote. "Here are the facts. He's history," Mr. Perot said.

In last night's 90-minute call-in show, during which Perot fan Cher called in once again, Mr. Perot said he would turn U.S. embassies into business hubs and appoint ambassadors who were "business tigers."

He emphatically told Mr. King that his volunteers called him back into the presidential race in an "open meeting." But, in fact, every meeting he held with his state coordinators was a closed-door session.

On tonight's PBS program he suggests that when he quit the presidential race in July -- and --ed the hopes of volunteers who were getting his name on the ballot through a nationwide petition drive -- he fully intended to re-enter it after his daughter's August wedding.

"It's a risk I didn't have to take," Mr. Perot says. "As an independent candidate, I could wait until after my daughter's wedding was over and come back in the race. As a Democrat or a Republican, I couldn't."

Still, he admits he "may have said" in a July 18 meeting of his state coordinators that he planned to return in an October surprise.

The 62-year-old Texan also echoes comments made earlier this week by his running mate, James B. Stockdale, and campaign aide Orson Swindle condemning the actions of those who protested against the Vietnam War, such as Democratic candidate Bill Clinton.

Mr. Stockdale and Mr. Swindle, both former POWs, spoke out forcefully this week against Mr. Clinton and his fellow anti-war protesters, saying their actions prolonged the war and the war prisoners' captivity.

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