- The Washington Times - Friday, December 17, 1999

Real estate tycoon Donald Trump has invited the Reform Party’s top officials from around the country to a gala reception at his Palm Beach home next month as the contest for the party’s presidential nomination began picking up steam.

Mr. Trump, who is assessing his chances of winning the party’s nomination, has sent out e-mail invitations to all of the Reform Party’s state chairmen, vice chairmen and national party committeemen to meet on Jan. 14 at Mar-a-Lago, the palatial Florida home that he spent millions restoring.

Mr. Trump has already held regional meetings with Reform Party officials and activists in the past month and has begun to build a voter database of potential supporters for a candidacy, his aides said Thursday.

“The chances are now seven in 10 that he will run for the Reform Party’s nomination,” said his chief political adviser, Roger Stone.

While little media attention has been paid lately to the party that was founded and led by two-time presidential candidate Ross Perot, about a half dozen mostly little-known candidates are pursuing its nomination.

The two best-known contenders, of course, are Pat Buchanan, who is a declared candidate, and Mr. Trump, both of whom have begun preliminary work to get the party on the ballot in 29 states in 2000. The Reform Party is already to be on the ballot in 21 states.

Mr. Buchanan’s candidacy received a big boost Thursday when the Federal Election Commission approved millions of dollars in public matching funds for his Reform Party campaign, even though the funds were based on what he raised as a Republican candidate for president.

However, Mr. Perot has not ruled out getting into the contest again before the party holds its national convention in August. Mr. Perot has had nothing to say about the candidates and has remained out of the limelight for months.

A close associate of the feisty Dallas billionaire said that he was “still mulling over his options.”

Another top associate, Reform Party Chairman Russell Verney, said that “Ross has not ruled out the possibility of running and he has not ruled in the possibility of running.”

Meanwhile, other Reform Party officials said that some party officials and members who were unhappy with the prospect of either Mr. Trump or Mr. Buchanan as their standard-bearer were looking for another candidate to carry their banner next year.

“There is an underlying sentiment within the party for another candidate. I think people in the party want to have a highly visible candidate who can compete against” the Republican and Democratic presidential nominees, said Michael Farris, chairman of the party’s Presidential Nominating Committee.

“They’re looking for someone who is going to thoughtfully challenge the two establishment candidates,” said Mr. Farris, who is also the former chairman of the California Reform Party.

Other party activists confirmed a growing feeling among some Reform members to widen their candidate choices.

“I think there is a sentiment around the country that we would like to have more options than we do now,” said Dean Barkley, a political adviser to Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, the party’s highest elected official.

“Governor Ventura wants to have a competitive primary with candidates who will express different opinions about what the party should be. At this point, he is still encouraging others to get into it,” Mr. Barkley said.

Mr. Ventura dislikes Mr. Buchanan’s isolationist and trade protectionist views and has been encouraging everyone from former Sen. Lowell P. Weicker of Connecticut to former independent presidential candidate John Anderson to enter the contest, but has found no takers.

The Minnesota governor and Mr. Trump plan to meet next month when the New York real estate mogul addresses several Chambers of Commerce in Minneapolis. Aides said they will discuss how to assure that the Reform Party candidate “gets into the general election debates,” Mr. Barkley said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Buchanan has been building his staff in preparation for next year’s campaign, hiring Matt Sawyer as his chief ballot-access specialist. Mr. Sawyer knows ballot laws and the Reform Party’s state-by-state apparatus perhaps better than anyone. He was in charge of getting Mr. Perot on the ballot in all 50 states when he ran in 1996 and captured 8 percent of the vote.

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