H. Ross Perot, the feisty Texas technology billionaire who rattled politics with two independent presidential campaigns in the 1990s that struck a chord with disgruntled voters, died on Tuesday at the age of 89, his family said.
“Ross Perot, the ground-breaking businessman and loving husband, brother, father and grandfather, passed away early Tuesday at his home in Dallas, surrounded by his devoted family,” the Perot family said in a statement.
Perot’s fortune was estimated at $4.1 billion by Forbes magazine in April 2019.
Perot was a natural salesman who made a fortune in computer services but he was an unlikely and unconventional politician. He was short with buzz-top haircut, spoke with a folksy Texas drawl and had protruding ears that even he joked about. He was blunt and assertive and his success in business made him accustomed to getting his way.
Perot was so gung-ho that when two of his employees were jailed in Iran in 1978, he organized a team of commandos from his employees and hired a former Green Beret colonel to break them out.
Perot leaped into the 1992 presidential race as an independent and quickly found a lode of Americans turned off by the Republican and Democratic Parties. His overarching issue was curbing the government’s deficit spending – an issue he referred to as the “crazy aunt in the basement” whom no one wanted to talk about.
With his charts, self-deprecating humor and down-home economic remedies, Perot led a Gallup Poll five months before the election with 39%, compared to 31% for incumbent Republican George H.W. Bush and 25% for Democrat Bill Clinton.
A month later, however, Perot stunned the political world by withdrawing from the race. He re-entered several weeks later saying he had dropped out because Republican tricksters had been plotting to disrupt his daughter’s wedding.
Perot finished with a respectable 19% of the vote in the presidential election, trailing Clinton’s 43% and Bush’s 37.5%.
Perot stayed active in politics by speaking out against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), saying it would create a “giant sucking sound” of American jobs going to Mexico.
For his 1996 White House run, Perot started the Reform Party but captured little more than 8% of the popular vote, as well as causing a rift in the political movement he founded.
Many voters said they had come to perceive Perot as overbearing, volatile, paranoid and egotistical – even if they had liked his ideas.
By 2000, Perot had mostly faded from the national political radar.