PALOS VERDES, Calif. -- Out of his sumptuous hilltop home overlooking the Pacific, Ross Perot's old boss in IBM's computer sales division is now working as his chief political organizer in the nation's most populous state.
While Perot himself maintains political visibility with frequent television talk-show appearances and paid "infomercials," Joseph Campbell, now a 66-year-old semiretired business consultant, is directing a detailed program to sign on new California members of United We Stand, America, the Perot-led grass-roots organization, and organize them.
In the early 1960s, Perot worked as a computer salesman for Campbell at IBM in Dallas, where he was, Campbell says, "the best salesman who ever worked for me." Now Campbell is the paid (not highly, he says) executive director of the organization for the state, and he says business is booming.
Since April, several weeks after he took the job at Perot's personal request, Campbell says, $15 memberships in California alone have been coming in at the rate of 1,700 a day. That would mean more than 100,000 in two months, or the beginnings of an immense grass-roots political pressure group.
Campbell was not involved in the petition drive last year that put Perot on the ballot in all 50 states, or in the patchwork political effort that labored for him in his October comeback bid for the presidency. He says that what's going on now is much better planned than that frenetic "October Surprise" and is geared for more effective grass-roots politics, pointing toward the 1994 elections.
Chapters of 35 members or more are being formed all over California, with plans for the election in July of United We Stand, America officers in all 52 of California's congressional districts. "Facilitators" are being trained to run the elections in ways, Campbell says, that will assure fairness and build confidence in the organization.
One of the causes of internal problems and external negative publicity regarding the Perot petition drives last year was the dispatch of unwelcome Perot operatives from Dallas to local and state volunteer operations. This time around, Campbell says, the objective is to establish local leadership from the start.
The California organization will also have elections later for 10 regional directors, each responsible for five or six congressional districts, who will act as a state board of directors. California is the first large state being so organized, Campbell says, but the process has already been completed in Maine and is proceeding in about 20 other states.
All this activity underscores the seriousness with which Perot is addressing the formation of the organization that could provide the framework for a second presidential bid in 1996. Campbell says Perot has told him he does not want to run again, "but he wants to see the country's problems solved by 1996. But I think he left a small opening there if the problems are not fixed, that he'd let himself be drafted."
For now, Campbell says, United We Stand, America in California will be organizing for the specific purpose of bringing grass-roots pressure on the state's members of Congress on local issues as well as on Perot's national positions.
While there are no plans for the organization to function as a third party, putting up its own slate of 1994 candidates, Campbell says, it will back and oppose candidates, and could run candidates in Republican and Democratic primaries for congressional seats. "If you don't do that," he says, "you're not really having influence."
After Perot pulled out of the presidential race in July, a segment of the Perot volunteer organization stayed together in California and held a series of workshops on issues designed to affect congressional races, but the impact was uncertain.
Still, Perot's 19 percent of the vote in November and exit polls after the California primary indicating that he would have been voters' first choice had he been on the Republican and Democratic ballots suggest his political potential in the state.
Campbell acknowledges that what United We Stand, America does in 1996, here and elsewhere, will depend on how President Clinton fares between now and then. Meanwhile the army is building and, like Ross Perot, watching.