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Monday, December 5, 2011

Could Cain Use Perot's 1992 Playbook For Return?

Herman Cain's announcement Saturday that he was suspending -- but not terminating -- his campaign to avoid the mainstream news media's onslaught of sex-related accusations marked a rapid fall from front-runner to non-candidate. However, it may not be the actual end of his campaign. Cain could return, if he follows the playbook of another legendary candidate.

Ross Perot was the front-runner as an independent candidate in 1992 as late as the eve of the Democratic National Convention. Perot stumbled badly the week before, losing campaign co-manager Ed Rollins and making his infamous "you people" remark at an NAACP dinner. As the news media smelled a wounded candidate (really, they smelled a great story, everyone loves to watch the fall of a public figure), Perot suspended his campaign on the Tuesday of convention week in mid-July 1992.

Virtually immediately, Bill Clinton catapulted from third place to front-runner over incumbent President George H.W. Bush.

Perot, however, was not done. A special committee called the Perot Petition Committee was started and continued work to get Perot on the ballot in New York State, a notoriously difficult state in which to run as an independent. Perot submitted over 91,000 signatures in late August and qualified for the general election ballot.

Behind the scenes, preparations began for a formal re-entry into the race. Campaign structures were re-staffed. In late September, Perot resumed the campaign with a vengeance.

Perot gave speeches before crowds of upwards of 50,000 in Somerville NJ and elsewhere, and bought blocks of thirty minutes for infomercial-length presentations with the legendary pie charts. He appeared in all the major TV debates and was generally considered to have done very well.

There were gaffes. Perot chose as a stand-in vice presidential candidate Admiral James Stockdale (Ret.), who was visibly addled and likely suffering from dementia during his infamous vice-presidential debate performance in which he said, "Who am I? What am I doing here?"

The post-script: Perot got 19 percent of the national popular vote and came within a few thousand in states like Utah and Wyoming of coming in second ahead of Clinton. While Republicans blamed Perot for Bush's defeat, polls showed Perot took evenly from Bush and Clinton in 1992.

In retrospect, it is clear that Perot never intended to withdraw from the race, but decided on a tactical retreat which stopped his fall from being "the story." At the appropriate time, he resumed his campaign and was able to have a different "story," that of the promise of an impossible comeback.

There is nothing to suggest that this strategy could not be followed by Herman Cain. The roadmap is there.

Eric Dixon is a New York-based investigator, lawyer, strategist and entrepreneur. Mr. Dixon was active in Ross Perot's 1992 New York petition drive as an election lawyer and supervisor, and as a national spokesman for the campaign who appeared in studio on ABC's Good Morning America.

Eric Dixon
Eric Dixon LLC

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