By Steve Rosenbush
Last month at the Democratic convention, John Kerry surrounded himself with military leaders and soldiers to bolster his image as a Presidential candidate worthy of being Commander-in-Chief. On Aug. 4, Kerry used a similar tactic on the economic front. His campaign released a list of 200 prominent supporters from the business and financial world, resisting Republican efforts to portray him as a liberal senator who's out of the economic mainstream.
Some of the supporters joined him at an "economic summit" later that day in the strategically important city of Davenport, Iowa, where President Bush campaigned just a few blocks away. "We know that if we bring down skyrocketing health-care costs, enforce our trade agreements, and cut taxes for companies that keep jobs here, we can strengthen our economy, help businesses succeed, and create millions of new, better paying jobs," Kerry said.
The list shows that Kerry is making some inroads into Republican strongholds in the business world. The gains aren't as big as the Kerry campaign would suggest.
The list of 200 names include numerous well-known Democrats like investment bankers Steve Rattner, managing principal of the Quadrangle Group, Roger Altman, chairman of Evercore Partners, and William Kennard, the Carlyle Group's managing director. Altman served in the Clinton Administration as Deputy Treasury Secretary, and Kennard was chairman of the Federal Communications Commission under Clinton. But the list does include a number of former Bush supporters, such as David Bonderman, founder of the powerful private-equity firm Texas Pacific Group.
Even a small shift in support can be psychologically significant, though. And some of the latest polls suggest that Bush is playing political defense. Kerry is ahead by three to five percentage points in many polls, and if the election was held today, he'd win, says political expert Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. "The President may think he's okay, but he's not," says Sabato. He acknowledges, though, that August's political wisdom "isn't worth very much" for an election that won't be held for another three months.
Yet, regardless of how small the shift in Kerry's favor may be, it's likely larger than the degree of support Bush is picking up among prominent Democrats who voted for Gore in 2000. That list is bound to be pretty short.
PLAYING BOTH SIDES?
Furthermore, while Bush still has an impressive group of backers in business and financial circles, the list of corporate supporters on the Kerry campaign is notable for its breadth. Beyond the bankers, it includes a good number of tech executives, such as John Gage, chief researcher at Sun Microsystems (SUNW ), Barry Diller, CEO of Internet powerhouse IAC/InteractiveCorp (IACI ), and Dan Scheinman, senior vice-president of Internet-equipment giant Cisco Systems (CSCO ), James Sinegal, CEO of Costco Wholesale (COST ), and Gordon Segal, CEO of Crate and Barrel, were on the list, too.
Support for Kerry can even be found inside what is viewed by many as the quintessential conservative company, News Corp (NWS ). Kerry supporters include Peter Chernin, president of the media giant that owns Fox News, The New York Post, and the Weekly Standard.
Of course, as politics becomes increasingly nuanced and big corporate donors have reasons to be in the good graces of both Democrats and Republicans, the Kerry list may be a reminder of a more mundane truth. Long gone are the days of corporate executives as tuxedo-clad Republicans in monocles and stove-pipe hats, thumbing through the social registry with one hand while they count stacks of gold bullion in the other.
Putting the culture of scandal aside for the moment, many corporate executives tend to look, and vote, pretty much like the rest of the country. And at the moment, it's leaning toward Kerry.
Rosenbush is a writer for BusinessWeek Online in New York