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The View From The Corner Office: Bush Is A Goner

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"Resigned...desperate...unfocused...weak...wandering...confused...embarrassing." Sorry, Mr. President. Those pans of your performance in the Presidential debates aren't from the Clinton camp. They're from folks who are supposed to be strong supporters.

BUSINESS WEEK conducted an entirely unscientific survey of Corporate America's brass--an electronic town meeting of sorts--by sending via fax a two-page questionnaire to 24 top executives around the country. Their view: Bush is headed for the showers. Remarkably, although three-quarters of the group voted Republican in 1988, most seem ready for a change to a Democrat. Only two picked Ross Perot to win. "Go, Ross," said one of them, Sun Microsystems CEO Scott G. McNealy.

Respondents to the survey--distributed and returned on Oct. 20 after the final debate--didn't exactly swoon over Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton. But they thought he had bested the President. " ease...well-prepared" were typical responses, along with "slick" and "insincere." Alan C. Greenberg, chairman of Bear, Stearns & Co., plans to vote for Clinton, but still groused that he "looks like a hairdresser." Rene V. Anselmo, chairman of Alpha Lyracom Space Communications Inc., complained that Clinton came off as a "polished used-car salesman." Anselmo is still undecided but boldly predicted a win for independent Perot.

Nearly half the respondents agreed with the statement that Bush will lose and "maybe a change would be good." Only one--Martin D. Walker, CEO of Cleveland's M.A. Hanna Co.--checked off the box saying he was "terrified" at the prospect of a Democrat resodding Bush's horseshoe pit.

Five executives warned that Clinton won't do any better than Bush. "Clinton hasn't the vaguest idea on how the economy really works," said Gilbert F. Amelio, chief of National Semiconductor Corp. Not all techies dislike Clinton: Thirty software execs, including Microsoft Corp. Executive Vice-President Steve Ballmer, were set to endorse him on Oct. 26.

SELF-HELP. In a survey question of who has the "best grasp of the central issues," Clinton edged out Perot, who seemed a sentimental favorite of many of his fellow plutocrats. The Texan, who says he prepares his own flip charts, got the nod from 14 executives for having "the best understanding of business and of the key problems afflicting the U.S. economy." Perot is "raising issues and saying the unsayable," said Donald B. Marron, chairman of PaineWebber Group Inc.

Surprisingly, for a group that hammered Bush's debating skills and his grasp of economic issues, most of the executives assigned him little blame for the nation's economic woes. "Most of the blame belongs to Reagan," said Douglas Carlston, CEO of Broderbund Software Inc. W.J. Sanders III, CEO of Advanced Micro Devices Inc., assigns Bush "less than 10%" of the onus. Not surprisingly, Congress also took much of the heat.

When it came to ranking the issues that counted most in determining their votes, most of the executives cited a candidate's ability to manage the economy, enhance competitiveness, and tackle the deficit. Civil rights, privacy, the environment, and social issues? For all but four execs, they were down the list.

In sum, the faxsters weren't overjoyed about their choices in Election '92. Said J. Paul Grayson, chairman of Micrografx Inc.: "We would be no worse off if we selected, at random, any registered voter." Now there's a thought.By Paul Magnusson in Washington

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