Ross Perot and the Reform Party, 1992 and 1996

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In this June 1992 political cartoon from Tom Engelhart at the St. Louis Times-Dispatch, presidential candidates Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush wade in the water next to a primary finish line sign and look up at Ross Perot sitting in a private boat. The cartoon reflects anxieties from the Clinton and Bush campaigns about Perot’s grassroots support, his unconventional campaign strategy, and his tremendous personal financial resources available for campaigning. Courtesy of The State Historical Society of Missouri via Missouri Hub.

After strife with the Bush administration about the Persian Gulf War, billionaire businessman Ross Perot decided to run as an independent candidate for president in 1992. Appealing to resentment towards established politicians and advancing himself as a vital third candidate option, Perot campaigned on a platform that included balancing the federal budget, opposition to gun control, the end of job outsourcing, opposition to NAFTA, and popular input on government through electronic direct democracy town hall meetings. Perot challenged his supporters to petition for his name to appear on the ballot in all fifty states.

After primary season in June 1992, Perot briefly led the election in polls with 39% of the popular vote over Democrat Bill Clinton and incumbent Republican George H. W. Bush. But by July 1992, Perot’s campaign faced internal challenges and Perot formally withdrew from the race. Although he re-entered on October 1, 1992, voters remained unsure whether he was officially running and his popular image was dogged by his images as a “quitter.” In spite of this turbulence, Perot won 18.9% of the popular vote, from voters spread across the country as well as across party lines. Perot ran again in 1996 as the Reform Party candidate and won 8% of the popular vote. With his challenges to mainstream politics, he emerged as one of the most successful third party candidates in US history, with the most support from across the political spectrum since Theodore Roosevelt.