A history of the Reform Party
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Reform Party has its origin in the 1992 independent presidential campaign of billionaire H. Ross Perot. That year, Perot offered himself as a centrist, independent businessman who could break through the two-party logjam in Washington and solve the country’s economic and fiscal problems.
Perot’s candidacy began in February, 1992 on CNN’s “Larry King Live.” The Texan announced he would run for president if volunteers in all 50 states placed him on the ballot and that he would spend millions of his vast fortune to run a “world-class campaign."
Moving rapidly and successfully to gain ballot access, Perot and the supporters of his "United We Stand America" organization captured intense media attention, and by May he was running closely in some polls with President Bush and Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, leading in several states.
But in July, Perot shocked the political world and Republicans especially when he dropped out of the race at the opening of the Democratic National Convention in New York, announcing that the Democrats with Bill Clinton were “getting their act together.” Clinton then pulled to a wide lead in the polls over Bush and would stay in the lead through Election Day.
Perot surprised observers again in the fall when he restarted his campaign. Though he never reached the levels of support garnered in the spring, he ran a concerted media campaign and participated in the presidential debates. In November he carried 19 percent of the popular vote, the highest third party performance since Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose run in 1912.
Building on his performance, the 50 state organizations that were established and the $60 million of his money that he’d spent, Perot and "United We Stand America" moved to create a more permanent Reform Party apparatus after the election. In 1996, he ran for president again as the Reform Party nominee, drawing 8.5 percent of the vote.
His 1996 showing made the 2000 Reform Party presidential nominee eligible for federal matching funds and some $12.5 million in federal funds.
In 1998, Jesse Ventura was elected governor of Minnesota on the Reform Party ticket -- one of 184 candidates for the Senate, House of Representatives and state offices that year. This success was a shot in the arm for the party but also a harbinger of future infighting.
In 1998, Jack Gargan, allied with Ventura, was elected chairman of the Reform Party over a candidate backed by Perot supporters. Gargan would in turn be ousted as chairman in 1999 and replaced by acting Chairman Gerry Moan, who still holds that position and was friendly to a candidacy by Pat Buchanan.
Buchanan’s candidacy in turn led to a potential candidacy of real estate developer Donald Trump as well as Ventura's high profile departure from the party. Party members opposed to Buchanan eventually settled on Dr. John Hagelin, the 1996 Natural Law Party presidential nominee, after Perot himself could not be convinced to run.