By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Gargan and other Reform Party members bash the media for casting the power-shift as the result of a battle royal between Ventura and Perot. But at the convention, Gargan himself anointed Ventura as the new star of the party when, according to the Post, he told delegates, "If you don't realize that Governor Ventura's victory is our ticket to party survival...then don't vote for me."
Many of the same people who once held Perot up as an example of the perfect leader are now doing the same to Ventura. To them, Perot once was an airtight anti-Washington politician. But over time, they saw he could be just as sanctimonious and self-serving as the other guy.
The reformers say they want someone as their leader who is beyond reproach. But no human, let alone politician, can ever be perfect in the eyes of these malcontents.
Perot had seven years to disappoint his blind followers. Ventura has had only six months. Yet doubts about Ventura already are starting to percolate. Newspaper reports of the convention included some grumblings from delegates accusing Ventura of being heavy-handed and forgetting that, yes, the Reform Party is not about him, it's about the people. It's the same accusation leveled constantly at Perot.
Welch of Sugar Land says: "Jesse Ventura is a great wrassler, a good [Navy] SEAL, and a great patriot, but this is the same guy who thinks we should support Lowell Weicker, a socialist, for president. When you listen to Weicker, it's like Looney Tunes."
How Perot feels about this shift of power is anyone's guess. He's not giving political interviews. Not even to Larry King.
Phil Madsen remembers vividly how the Perot Minnesota campaign chairman suddenly motioned at him from across a large room and mouthed the word for him to come "now." It was July 16, 1992, and Madsen and other volunteers were busy preparing for Perot's presidential campaign stop there the next day.
"He had a very concerned look on his face," recalls Madsen, 45, of Lino Lakes, Minnesota. "He told me he had received a call from Dallas indicating that Perot was dropping out of the race."
Only four months before, Madsen had experienced his own Perot epiphany while eating a macaroni-and-cheese lunch in front of the TV. While channel-surfing, he stopped on a C-SPAN telecast of a Perot speech to the National Press Club. Madsen was a financial planner who helped clients exploit tax loopholes, but hated himself for doing it. He was only an occasional voter and had never been politically active.
That changed when he heard Perot's no-nonsense message. Madsen ended up playing a leading role in gathering the signatures to put the candidate on Minnesota's 1992 presidential ballot. Perot had taken over his life until the devastating truth came out: Perot was a tease.
Perot, saying that he couldn't win and that he did not want to disrupt the political process, abruptly pulled out of the race. Madsen was at a loss. He thought Perot's purpose was to do exactly what he now said he wanted to avoid: shake up establishment politics. And although Perot had fallen in the polls since leading one month before, Madsen believed his man ultimately could win.
Perot would reveal later, after he had re-entered the race, that part of his reason for dropping out was his belief that Republican dirty-tricksters were planning to smear his daughter with a doctored photo and ruin her wedding. Perot's wild allegations were unsubstantiated, leading some political wags to coin the term "Perotnoid."
Today Verney says Perot had two additional reasons for suspending his campaign at the time. Perot felt he needed to get his campaign's finances in order as volunteer groups all over the country were raising money on his behalf, possibly in violation of federal election law. Perot also wanted to clean his house of Washington insiders he had brought on board, specifically GOP spinmeister Edward J. Rollins and Hamilton Jordan, the ex-chief of staff of the Carter White House. The pair wanted to steer Perot's campaign in a direction the candidate found offensive. They had recommended direct-mail and other traditional campaign advertising that Perot viewed as contrary to his ideals of running an unconventional political campaign. Rollins since has gone on record calling Perot a "kook."
Whatever Perot's reasons, kooky or not, his announcement on July 16, 1992, cost him then and still costs him today.
"The majority of Perot supporters decided on that day they would have nothing to do with him ever again," Madsen says. "They were heartbroken. It's no fun to be heartbroken."
When Madsen got home that night, a pile of envelopes sat on top of a table. They were engraved invitations to a special evening party for Perot's top 100 Minnesota volunteers that he had planned to pass out the next morning. He held the invitations in his hand and read the names on the envelopes. Madsen says he broke down and cried.
One week later Madsen called together other devastated Perot volunteers and announced he wanted to turn a negative into a positive by starting a third party in Minnesota. "Some people were concerned that I didn't ask Ross for permission," he says. "I told them that Ross didn't ask me for permission if he could quit."