LOS ANGELES -- Organizers of Ross Perot's drive to launch a new national party, set back by what they see as Republican "dirty tricks," are claiming they will still beat Tuesday's deadline to qualify for the 1996 presidential ballot in California.
Russell J. Verney, an official of Mr. Perot's Dallas-based United We Stand America organization, which is in charge of the campaign, says, "We're halfway. Right on track" to collect the 89,007 voter registrations required by law, "plus a cushion" against any forms thrown out as invalid.
Secretary of State Bill Jones said the Perot forces had registered 10,217 voters so far, up from 448 a week ago, the Associated Press reported. He added that based on conversations with the counties as well as the Reform Party organization, there were "a substantial number of voter registration cards in the pipeline awaiting processing" before the Oct. 24 deadline.
The campaign is seeking the registrations after Mr. Jones, a Republican, announced earlier this month that an already started drive for 890,064 petition signatures had missed the deadline for that procedure -- another way to get on the California ballot.
A flier for the new Reform Party labels Mr. Jones' ruling "dirty tricks" and points to a proposal, floated at the recent Republican state convention, which would have cut off the party's business with "any petition company or paid signature-gatherers if they receive pay for helping to qualify the Reform Party."
The proposal never came to a vote but the Perot forces are using it anyway to contend that the state GOP wants to scuttle the new party's effort.
Here, as elsewhere, Republicans fear that a new party candidate, or an independent such as Mr. Perot was in 1992, will draw off Republican voters and split the anti-Clinton vote that otherwise would go to the GOP nominee. They argue that that's precisely what happened when President George Bush lost to Mr. Clinton in 1992.
But organizers of the new party are circulating another flier that disputes that view. It cites polls after the 1992 election in which an equal number of Perot voters said they would have voted for Mr. Bush and for Mr. Clinton had Mr. Perot not been on the ballot.
"Republicans claim a new party would guarantee a Clinton re-election," the flier says. "This is not based on fact. It is just a common game in Washington called 'Fear.' "
Another campaign flier denies that the new party is simply a vehicle for another Perot presidential bid, while not ruling him out. It quotes Mr. Perot as saying members of the new party will choose their nominee and might even "endorse" the Republican or Democratic nominee as a way of delivering the swing vote.
To qualify a new party, California law requires petition signatures equal to 10 percent of the vote in the previous gubernatorial election or voter registrations equal to one percent of the statewide total. Mr. Verney says that as a result of Mr. Jones' finding, "we only need one-tenth [as many voters to register as sign petitions], but they're ten times harder to get."
However, the wide publicity in California about Mr. Jones' notice that the petition deadline had effectively passed, has helped the registration drive and generated sympathy, says Mike Sitz, another paid organizer from Dallas. Also, Mr. Sitz says, many voters find signing up for a new party gives them a greater sense of participation.
Mr. Verney says he doesn't know how many registrations have been collected so far, but he predicts confidently that the goal will be reached. In addition to the Dallas operatives, local United We Stand America members and some paid temporary employee agency workers are collecting registrations out of six offices around the state.
When the campaign started and was focused on petitions, advertisements paid for by Mr. Perot ran in all major California newspapers, and he made a personal swing around the state rallying support. Since the drive has had to switch to getting voters to register, inserts have been placed in leading newspapers with registration forms included.
According to Mr. Verney, about a million such forms have been printed, with the approval of Mr. Jones, and at Mr. Perot's expense. Mr. Verney says Mr. Perot is assuming all costs of the drive but says he doesn't know what it's costing his boss -- the customary Perot policy on disclosing expenditures.
Should the California campaign fail to qualify the new party here, Mr. Verney says, other efforts will be pursued in Ohio and Maine, which also have deadlines before the end of this year.
In California, he says, the party would still have the option of running its nominee in the state as an independent without party identification, as Mr. Perot did in 1992, when he received 2.3 million votes in the state.