16 for '16 - The Contenders
Ross Perot's Rise From Humble Beginnings
Ross Perot’s humble background and early career led to bold decisions later in life.
Premiere date: Oct. 18 | The deck is stacked against independent or third-party candidates in modern U.S. presidential politics, but Ross Perot and Ralph Nader were two candidates who managed to leave their indelible marks on two recent presidential races.
Perot, a billionaire from Texas, jumped into the presidential race on an episode of CNN’s “Larry King Live” in 1992, informing the talk show host he would run for president if his name were placed on the ballot in all 50 states. “Draft Perot" organizations soon started sprouting across the nation and legions of Perot volunteer’s joined the cause.
Campaigning on a platform of reducing the national debt and protecting American jobs from foreign competition, Perot’s no-nonsense challenge to incumbent Republican president George H.W. Bush and Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, stole the show. He tried to explain the U.S. deficit to the public using low-tech charts, half-hour paid infomercials, and folksy sayings; and in a set of rare opportunities, he upstaged Bush and Clinton during the presidential debates. Perot soared in the polls early, then dropped out of the race in July before re-entering a few months later. In the end, Perot was able to win 19 percent of the vote, marking one of the most successful third-party runs in history.
Before entering politics, Ralph Nader made his mark as a lawyer and consumer protection advocate whose landmark 1965 book on of the safety record of U.S. automobile manufacturers, Unsafe at Any Speed, helped lead to federally mandated seat belts and air bags. Nader and the legions of young lawyers and activists he inspired, would help shine a spotlight on unsafe products, pollution and industrial hazards.
Perhaps the most significant third-party candidate in American history, Nader ran for president in 2000 on the Green Party ticket, campaigning on many of the same issues he had fought for as a consumer advocate. Nader managed to get on the ballot in 43 states and would win almost 3 million votes and 3 percent of the popular vote, including over 97,000 votes in Florida, a state where George W. Bush defeated Al Gore by just 537 votes, which lead to the allegations from the left that he had cost Gore the election.
You can call these third party candidates difficult, fearless or risible but whatever you do, don’t call them spoilers.