Across nation, Perot gains // Many find candidate appealing

  Patricia Edmonds


  USA Today


  Page 05A

  (Copyright 1992)


  Among the nation's debate-watchers Sunday night, some liked what President

  Bush said, some liked what Gov. Bill Clinton said - and many, much to their

  surprise, had a great time just listening to Ross Perot.


  In short, some voters felt the most affinity for the candidate with the smallest

  chance of winning.


  And so their options - vote with misgivings for one of the leading contenders, or

  take another look at the underdog - probably consigned many to the ``undecided''

  column for days to come.




  Perot wins points for `honesty'


  Before the debate, Kelli Narde sounded downright desperate.


  ``It's got to make a difference - something's got to help me decide,'' said Kelli,

  32, a government employee from this Denver suburb. ``I can't morally not vote. I

  absolutely will. But I dread it because all three possibilities scare me.''


  Kelli and her husband, Tony - an aerospace worker who knows his job hinges on

  the next president's defense philosophy - have listened to the rhetoric and

  discussed the issues.


  But to help them decide who would best shape the future for their 3-year- old

  son, the debate seemed crucial.


  Before the debate, both Nardes were leaning toward Bush - Clinton's character

  issues bothered them, as did Perot's reliability factor. But the debate swayed both

  toward Perot.


  Tony praised Perot's ``good, sharp, crisp answers,'' and said he'd more seriously

  consider the Texas billionaire.


  Bush ``needed to do something different to score points with me,'' but failed to,

  Kelli said. Perot, she said, ``is not exactly presidential ... (but) you feel like

  you're getting an honest answer.''




  Bush offers the most direction


  When Peter Kim was 5, his family moved here from Korea, hungry for the

  American dream. Now that Kim is 25, he's seen both dream and nightmare.


  In spring 1990, he got his university degree in biology - the first step, he hopes,

  toward medical school. But in spring 1992, during riots that ravaged his

  Koreatown neighborhood, he saw his family's pharmacy burn down.


  Kim approached Sunday's debate planning ``to vote for Bush all the way.'' Still,

  he said, ``I'm going to listen to Clinton. Every Bush supporter should listen to

  him.'' And while he concluded that ``Perot makes it interesting ... it's still

  between the other two.''


  Kim's review after the debate: ``Clinton is not saying anything new for me - and

  this Perot `working for the people' bit, I don't buy that.


  ``The question for me is, `Where do we want to go as a country?' '' he said. ``For

  me, it's Bush.''




  `Have to get Bush out of there'


  Three days after somebody wins the top White House job, David Slatton will

  lose his.


  Slatton, 32, is a medical underwriting assistant who voted for Bush and Reagan

  in the last three elections. On Nov. 6, his section of the insurance company will

  shut down and his job will vanish.


  ``It's kind of scary,'' Slatton says. He spent nine years at the company, his first

  real job after getting out of the Air Force. He's been sending out resumes since

  he got the bad news in March, but so far, no luck.


  After watching Sunday night's face-off, Slatton said, ``I'm so impressed with

  Perot. He makes a lot of sense when he talks. I'm going to have to pay more

  attention to what he says.''


  He certainly won't choose Bush, whose administration he blames for the

  recession and his lost job. ``Even these big major companies are losing money,''

  he says. ``We have to get Bush out of there. He's making things worse.''




  Looking for `something more'


  At the El Pub restaurant on the city's famous Calle Ocho (Eighth Street), one

  customer has a standing $1,000 bet that Clinton will be the next president.

  ``Everyone laughs,'' says manager Florentino Perez. ``But nobody takes the

  money out of their pocket.''


  El Pub is in the heart of Little Havana, where the Cuban exile community

  traditionally is as ardently pro-Republican as it is bitterly anti-Castro. To suggest

  the nation might need a break from Republicans is to veer perilously close to



  But Perez, 58, has heard this notion, and considers embracing it. He has voted

  the GOP ticket in every election he can remember - but after 31 years in this

  country, he says, ``I've never seen the economy so bad.''


  After Sunday's telecast, Perez said he was surprised at Perot's appeal: ``Of

  course, he has to show experience, and in that respect, President Bush has the

  upper hand.'' But he said Clinton's claims that he represents hope were ``just not

  enough. You have to show something more.''


  FLINT, Mich.


  `Clinton coming off the loser'


  ``I think Perot's a true-blue American,'' says auto parts factory worker Larry

  Goodrich. ``I think he goes to bed with red, white and blue underwear. But ... I

  don't like his instability.''


  The last thing Goodrich needs is more instability in his life. During a year-long

  layoff in the late 1970s, the family lost its three-bedroom home, and couldn't

  afford to buy another for three years. Now, the 20-year unionist is a spark plug

  assembly coordinator in a plant supplying GM cars - but so unsure of his job that

  both he and wife Laurie, a homemaker, are studying to become registered nurses.


  Laurie, 39, admires Bush's military career, and Barbara Bush, but doubts that

  Bush is ``for the middle class. He hasn't helped the auto industry.''


  Larry, 46, had turned away from Perot after the Texan showed ``his true nature''

  with his off-and-on campaign.


  But after the debate, he said, ``Perot's coming off a winner. He's definitely got

  the moxie. ... I think Clinton is coming off the loser here. And Bush is coming in



  Laurie concurred: ``I'm liking Perot a lot. ... He's looking presidential.''




  Clinton the best for economy


  Louis Reese wanted the candidates to talk about the economy and education:

  ``Those are the key issues.''


  Opthalmologist Reese and his wife, Faye, live in one of the nation's oldest black

  middle class neighborhoods in southwest Atlanta. He's worried that ``the

  economy is affecting all of us.'' She thinks ``Bush hasn't done anything for the

  four years he's been in there.''


  After watching all 90 minutes, Louis was leaning toward Clinton: ``I'm not sure

  Bush has any idea what's going on in this country.''


  And although Faye thought Perot ``is saying some good things,'' she stuck with

  her pre-debate leanings: ``Clinton is still OK with me.''




  Couple still seeking answers


  Jane and Craig Sternagel turned on their TV looking for more than ``Madison

  Avenue campaigns'' - hoping for a true view of ``the candidates without all the



  Ninety minutes later, they said Perot performed best, Clinton nearly equalled

  him, and Bush did worst.


  Work and family had left the Sternagels little time to study the candidates'

  positions. Craig, 40, is marketing manager for a seaplan service; Jane, 38, works

  part time at a children's hospital and sells cosmetics.


  Both voted for Bush last time.


  Each had definite expectations for the debate. Craig wanted ``specific ideas and

  programs.'' Jane wanted to see ``genuineness. ... I'm interested in the person, and

  whether it sounds like someone else is talking for them.''


  Perot's demeanor won him a few points with the Sternagels: Craig said he looked

  like a legitimate contender, plus ``a Will Rogers kind of guy.'' But they still

  haven't decided whether to vote for him or Clinton.


  Both Craig and Jane scoffed at Bush's early jabs at Clinton about his Vietnam

  war opposition. Concluded Jane: ``Bush has not gained any points with me.''




  Likely vote `against someone'


  Michael Solomon is single, white, Jewish, and a self-described ``self- loathing

  Republican'' who voted for George Bush four years ago and, before that, for

  Ronald Reagan.


  As he tuned in Sunday's debate, though, Solomon, 26, said his vote was up for

  grabs. An associate editor at Esquire magazine, Solomon said no candidate

  inspires him: ``I'm sick of Bush ... not particularly impressed with Clinton'' - and

  Perot ``can crawl back under his rock, as far as I'm concerned.''


  Solomon wanted Bush to demonstrate that he has a real strategy. But he didn't

  see anything new in the debate, which he dubbed ``rather dull,'' and said he still

  leans toward Clinton.


  However, Clinton's ``demeanor was so maudlin ... like he had just run over the

  family dog,'' he said. And Perot was just an ``entertainment sideshow.''


  ``It looks as if I'll still be voting against someone,'' he said. ``I'd like to feel that I

  was voting for someone.''




  3 candidates took high road


  When the debate started, many of Ron Cruise's neighbors weren't seated by their

  TVs, but on their tractors: Harvest time here finds farmers working every minute

  of daylight.


  But Cruise, 44, and his wife Peggy, 42, took a break from their 3,000 acres of

  corn and soybeans to scrutinize the three candidates Sunday night. They were

  looking for a leader to safeguard the future - for their five children, ages 19 to 3,

  and for their farm, in the family for four generations.


  ``I haven't made up my mind on where I'm going,'' says Cruise, a registered

  Democrat. He wanted the candidates to address agriculture issues; he wanted

  someone to promise farmers relief from government paperwork that ``takes up

  half of my time.''


  What he didn't want, he said, was ``name bashing. That just turns me off

  immediately. I want specific ideas.''


  After the debate, Cruise said he was ``pleasantly surprised that they haven't gone

  into the mud slinging route too much. ... I'm only disappointed with the lack of



  But Cruise still doesn't have a candidate. What he saw, he said, is ``surely

  nothing to make a voting decision on.''


  Contributing: Robert Davis, Bruce Frankel, Deeann Glamser, Kevin Johnson,

  Jonathan T. Lovitt , Mark Mayfield, Jana Mazanec, Thomas R. Raber, Deborah



  CUTLINE:SEEKING STABILITY: Larry and Laurie Goodrich, with children

  David, 15, and Krysta, 11, of Flint, Mich., were more impressed with Ross Perot

  after the debate. CUTLINE:`SCARED': David Slatton of Chicago will lose his

  job Nov. 6. CUTLINE:UP FOR GRABS: Michael Solomon of New York City

  found little inspiration. CUTLINE:CHOICES: Florentino Perez, manager of

  Miami's El Pub, has always voted GOP, but he's considering Clinton and is

  surprised by Perot's appeal. CUTLINE:TO THE POINT: For Louis and Faye

  Reese of Atlanta, economy and education are `key.' CUTLINE:TOUGH CALL:

  Kelli Narde of Littleton, Colo., with son Dustin, liked Perot. CUTLINE:MADE

  HIS CHOICE: Peter Kim, 25, of Los Angeles: `For me, it's Bush.'

  PHOTO;b/w,Jim Cheek,AP;PHOTO;b/w,Mark Elias,AP;PHOTO;b/w,Carol

  Halebian,AP;PHOTO;b/w,John Bazemore,AP;PHOTO;b/w,David

  Bruneau,AP;PHOTO;b/w,Joe Mahoney,AP;PHOTO;b/w,Mark J. Terrill,AP