WASHINGTON -- Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot announced plans last night for a third political party to run an independent presidential candidate in 1996.
Mr. Perot, who dodged questions about whether he himself might be that candidate, said retired Gen. Colin L. Powell was among half a dozen "world-class people" he'd like to see as the candidate of the new Independence Party.
Mr. Perot said organization of the new party will start at once in California to meet an Oct. 24 deadline to qualify for the 1996 ballot, and he also will work to meet deadlines in Ohio and Maine before the end of this year. He predicted the quick gathering of 900,000 signatures required to get on the ballot in California.
He said the objective was to qualify the new party in all 50 states and then hold what he called "primaries" in which voters around the country could choose the nominee.
Mr. Perot said the new party's participants also would endorse candidates for Congress from among the Democratic and Republican parties who embrace the new party's platform.
The platform, he said, would include restoration of confidence in government through various ethical reforms, a balanced budget amendment, shortened presidential elections and abolition of the electoral college.
The businessman said the selection process for the new party's presidential nominee would begin in April, after the two major parties are expected to have identified their nominees, although their conventions won't take place until the summer.
Mr. Perot, brimming with confidence as he laid out the plan on the "Larry King Live" television show on which he first announced his presidential intentions for 1992, boasted that his new party would drive out one of the existing major parties, leaving the country again with just two.
The third-party effort, if successful, would turn the 1996 presidential race, rather lackluster until now, into turmoil. Mr. Powell has been saying that if he runs he probably will do so as a Republican, and that an independent candidacy would have great obstacles. The immediate question is whether Mr. Perot's initiative will have any impact on that thinking.
One of Mr. Powell's major problems in an independent candidacy would be raising money. With Mr. Perot's army of independent voters behind him, that problem could be tackled. But all Mr. Perot would say last night was that Mr. Powell "falls in that category" of candidates he'd like to see carry the banner of his new party.
Mr. Perot cited polls indicating that 62 percent of the American people favor a third party, including half of voters who now say they are Republicans and Democrats.
Part of that group of disenchanted voters are members of the Perot-led United We Stand America organization, which heard from the announced Republican candidates and representatives of President Clinton in Dallas in August. Mr. Perot said organizing the new party would be done outside the United We Stand America structure, but it obviously will provide many of the foot soldiers in the broad petition-signing effort for ballot-qualification in the various states.
As in the past, Mr. Perot painted himself as no more than a catalyst for the public groundswell for a new party, but he came to the television studio with a ready-made platform. Members of United We Stand America around the country were not told of his grand plan in advance. They were alerted only to be sure to tune in last night.
Mr. Perot said that although the new party ultimately will be called the Independence Party nationwide, that name already is in use in some states like California and so it will be called the Reform Party until the name problem can be ironed out.