As delegates of Ross Perot's Reform Party discussed a national platform at their convention Saturday, the leader of a splinter group predicted the party is doomed to be a footnote in history because Perot exerts too much control.
"They either don't realize they're being dictated to, or it's all right with them that they're being dictated to," said Linda Witherspoon, president of the fledgling American Reform Party.
Witherspoon, a Memphis physician, dismissed statements by convention delegates that their state organizations are independent and that Perot is only a national spokesman because he can garner media attention.
Reform Party members, however, said they admire Perot because he speaks about issues such as the federal budget and campaign-finance reform. Some of them say they do not understand the criticism from Witherspoon's group.
"Right now, you don't see Perot," said Mike Corbett, a delegate from Highlands Ranch, Colo. "He's in the background. The majority of people want to see this party get on with the business of issues. They're tired of the wrangling."
Perot was scheduled to give a speech to the convention of 400 delegates. He has created speculation about his plans for 2000 by speaking publicly about issues recently and appearing last week on CNN's Larry King Live, but some delegates said they were not looking for him to make an announcement this weekend.
"This is much bigger than Mr. Perot, and he'll agree with that," said George Baker, a delegate from Golden City, Mo.
Witherspoon said she does not know how many members the American Reform Party has but predicted it would eclipse the organization Perot founded.
In October, former Reform Party activists from 23 states met in Schaumburg, Ill., to establish the American Reform Party.
Witherspoon contends Perot is a liability, saying he received less than half as many votes for president in 1996 as he did in 1992. She said too many Americans perceive Perot as "a two-time loser."