Time for Another Ross Perot?

By Jacqueline Klingebiel

Oct 1, 2009 5:00pm

My colleague ABC News' Teddy Davis reports on interesting remarks made at the CAP conference yesterday. (By the way, Cook’s right about 1992)…  Is it time for another Ross Perot? Franklin Raines, President Clinton’s former budget director, certainly thinks so. At a Wednesday conference on “Progressives and the National Debt,” Raines stood up during the question-and-answer period and said that the deficit reduction that took place under his former boss would not have occurred without Perot, the Texas billionaire who ran for president as an independent in 1992 and captured 19 percent of the popular vote. “The budget became a political imperative for Republicans and Democrats not because of virtue but because of the prior election where a third-party candidate ran on the platform (of balancing the budget) and didn’t win – didn’t have a chance of winning – but did more than enough to determine the election,” said Raines who headed the Office of Management and Budget from 1996 to 1998. The speculation about whether there is room for another Perot comes on the heels of an ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted last month which shows that 43 percent of Americans now identify themselves as independents, the most since ABC/Post polls began 28 years ago. With the budget deficit currently taking a backseat to the Democratic push for universal health care and Republican calls for tax cuts, Raines thinks the deficit will not become a priority in Washington unless and until the Perot voters coalesce and force the issue onto the agenda. “There is only 15-25 percent of the population that actually cares about (reducing the deficit),” Raines told ABC News in a follow-up interview. “The only question is do they stay in their main parties? Or does someone capture them for a period of time as Perot did?” Raines, who became CEO of Fannie Mae after leaving the Clinton administration and then stepped down in 2004 under accusations of accounting improprieties, told conference attendees that there is an opportunity for a Republican or a Democrat who is serious about the deficit to “leap out” and “capture that anger.” He believes, however, that if neither of the major parties does it, there will be an opening for a significant independent candidate in 2012 just as there was in 1992. “He won’t be back,” said Raines, referring to Perot. “But I can definitely see someone else being back.” Independent political analyst Charlie Cook “quibbled” with Raines’s assumption that Clinton would not have won in 1992 without Perot.  “If you look at the exit polls, half of the Perot voters said they would have voted for Bush and half of the Perot voters said they would have voted for Clinton,” Cook told ABC News. Raines is not alone, however, in thinking that Perot’s 1992 campaign shaped the agenda once Clinton became president. “I think there is no question about it that Perot was a very important force in not only the outcome of the election but also in defining the agenda that the Clinton administration followed,” said Robert Reischauer, the president of the Urban Institute who headed the Congressional Budget Office from 1989-1995, in an interview with ABC News. “He was sort of telling it like it is because he invested a lot of his own money in this and he had no coterie of people he had to please – no party, nothing like that.” The conference on “Progressives and the National Debt” was co-sponsored by the liberal Center for American Progress and the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. It was held at the Washington Court Hotel in Washington, D.C. ABC News’ Brittany Crockett contributed to this report.

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