DALLAS -- H. Ross Perot rose from a childhood of Depression-era poverty to become a self-made billionaire who twice ran for president with a mixture of folksy sayings and simple solutions to America's problems. His 19% of the vote in 1992 stands among the best showings by an independent candidate in the past century.
Perot died of leukemia early Tuesday at his home in Dallas surrounded by his family, family spokesman James Fuller said. He was 89.
As a boy in Texarkana, Texas, Perot delivered newspapers from the back of a pony. He earned his billions in a more modern way, however. After attending the U.S. Naval Academy and becoming a salesman for IBM, he set out on his own -- creating and building Electronic Data Systems Corp., which helped other companies manage their computer networks.
Yet the most famous event in his business career didn't involve sales and earnings; he financed a private commando raid in 1979 to free two EDS employees who were being held in a prison in Iran. The tale was turned into a book and a movie.
Perot first became known to Americans outside of business circles by claiming that the U.S. government left behind hundreds of American soldiers who were missing or imprisoned at the end of the Vietnam War.
Perot fanned the issue at home and discussed it privately with Vietnamese officials in the 1980s, angering the Reagan administration, which was formally negotiating with Vietnam's government. Looking out for the health care needs of veterans became a long-time concern of Perot.
Perot's wealth, fame and confident prescription for the nation's economic ills propelled his 1992 campaign against President George H.W. Bush and Democratic challenger Bill Clinton.
Perot briefly led in public opinion polls that summer, but stunningly he pulled out of the race, saying he did so to stop a Republican plot to sabotage his daughter's wedding.
He eventually re-entered the race, but his reputation had suffered. Critics said he had a penchant for embracing conspiracy theories. His poll numbers faded from a peak of nearly 40%, and he finished third.
Still, Perot recorded the highest percentage for an independent or third-party candidate since President Theodore Roosevelt's second-place showing in 1912. Some Republicans blamed Perot for causing Bush's defeat by splitting the anti-Clinton vote, although exit polls were inconclusive.
During the campaign, Perot spent $63.5 million of his own money. He bought 30-minute television spots during which he used charts and graphs to make his points, summarizing them with a line that became a national catch phrase: "It's just that simple."
Perot's second campaign four years later was far less successful. He was shut out of presidential debates when organizers said he lacked sufficient support. He got just 8% of the vote, and the Reform Party that he founded and hoped to build into a national political force began to fall apart.
However, Perot's ideas on trade and deficit reduction remained part of the political landscape. He blamed both major parties for running up a huge federal budget deficit and allowing American jobs to be sent to other countries. The movement of U.S. jobs to Mexico, he said, created a "giant sucking sound."
Perot continued to speak out about federal spending for many years. In 2008, he launched a website to highlight the nation's debt with a ticker that tracked the rising total, a blog and a chart presentation.
Henry Ross Perot was born in Texarkana on June 27, 1930. His father was a cotton broker; his mother a secretary. Perot said his family survived the Depression relatively well through hard work and by managing their money carefully.State Desk on 07/10/2019
Print Headline: H. Ross Perot, 89, rose from poverty to self-made billionaire