Texas billionaire Ross Perot may or may not re-enter the presidential race in a television appearance tonight. And local political observers and campaign chairmen say the impact of his decision is equally uncertain.
Perot is scheduled to appear on "Larry King Live" at 8 p.m. today on Cable News Network, and he has suggested he might announce his return to the presidential race.
"My sense is nobody knows what the impact is going to be," said Burdett Loomis, Kansas University professor of political science. "The only thing I feel pretty comfortable saying is it probably does (President) Bush more good right now. Bush is in a really, really deep hole. To the extent that Perot shakes things up, it might have helped (Arkansas Gov. Bill) Clinton earlier on, but now it will probably help whoever's losing."
LOOMIS said he wouldn't expect Perot's presence in the campaign to have much impact in Lawrence.
"I never got the sense that Perot had a tremendous following in Lawrence," he said. "This is hardly a community that has gone backward in the last 10 years. In western and southwestern Kansas where there's tremendous economic problems, Perot sounds great."
Paul Johnson, KU associate professor of political science, referred to a state poll that called on 125 registered voters in each of the state's four congressional districts. The poll found 38 percent in support of Clinton, 37 percent favoring Bush, and Perot grabbing 13 percent of the vote. Twelve percent were undecided.
Johnson said the poll indicated Perot would attract voters who probably otherwise would have cast their ballots for Clinton. However, he added that many people considering Perot can't be considered sure votes because they still might be swayed in the direction of Clinton or Bush.
Louise Silber, Douglas County Democratic Party chair, said a number of former Perot supporters now volunteer to work for the Clinton campaign and won't return to the Perot camp if he re-enters the race.
"I think Perot is a total wild card," she said. "Not only is the outcome unpredictable, but his behavior is unpredictable."
SILBER said she couldn't yet determine Perot's impact on the presidential race. "There are parts of the country where I think it will benefit Clinton and parts of the country where it'll benefit Bush," she said. "I know a lot of Republicans are looking for an alternative, but so are some Democrats."
Kim Wells, the state chair for the Republican Party, agreed that the election's outcome is hard to predict at this point. But he speculated that Perot would draw support away from Clinton, which would benefit Bush.
"My suspicion is initially it would help President Bush because people who might tend to vote against incumbents would be splintered between Clinton and Perot," he said.