Tuesday, July 06, 2004

It's Edwards

So the poodle has selected an ambulence chaser to be his running mate. Edwards was the person the DNC and the Clintons wanted. This ticket may be even more liberal then the Mondale/Ferraro ticket of 1984. Wall Street is not happy as evidenced by this article posted below. I suspect that rep/con 527s will be seeing a rather large influx of donations forthwith. - Sailor

July 6, 2004


Business Elite Vows
To Take On Kerry
If He Taps Edwards
July 6, 2004; Page A4

Tom Donohue, head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has made a public vow: If John Edwards is chosen as John Kerry's running mate, the chamber will abandon its traditional stance of neutrality in the presidential race and work feverishly to defeat the Democratic ticket. "We'd get the best people and the greatest assets we can rally" to the cause, he says.

Other business leaders in Washington have been less public and less precise, but no less passionate. Reviewing the candidates in the Democratic primaries earlier this year, a Fortune 100 chief executive who is active in Washington told me that Mr. Edwards, the North Carolina senator, "is the one we fear the most" -- more than John Kerry, more than Dick Gephardt, more than Howard Dean.

None of this is personal. These businessmen barely know Sen. Edwards and would probably find him a far more engaging dinner companion than most of his fellow Democrats -- Sen. Kerry included.


Crunch time is approaching for John Kerry to choose his running mate. Oddsmakers and online futures traders2 seem to think that Sen. John Edwards will be Mr. Kerry's choice to fill out the Democratic ticket. Is there a longshot lurking? We take a closer look.

Nor is it completely rational. Mr. Edwards's political and policy views are more moderate -- and more in line with business -- than those of Gov. Dean, Rep. Gephardt or even Sen. Kerry.

But Mr. Edwards is a trial lawyer. His campaign for the presidency was financed by trial lawyers. And there is nothing that makes America's CEOs see red these days like America's trial lawyers. "It's visceral," says one person who works with a group of chief executives. "You can feel it in a room." The nation's top executives view the plaintiff's bar as modern-day mobsters, shaking down corporations by bringing endless lawsuits that are too costly and too dangerous to litigate and that result in settlements costing billions to the corporate bottom line. The antipathy, while not new, has never been greater.

"This is not a personal issue and it is not a party issue," says Mr. Donohue. "It is not about getting Bush or Kerry elected. It is about something so fundamental to what we do here at the chamber that we can't walk away from it."

Should Democrats care? After all, big business is hardly their natural constituency. The Chamber of Commerce will never be a hotbed of Democratic support. And the number of chief executives in the elite Business Roundtable who will vote for Sen. Kerry, regardless of his running mate, can be counted on Fannie Mae CEO Frank Raines's right hand -- with digits to spare.

But party wisdom that's been passed down by former Democratic National Committee Chairman Robert Strauss, and now resides with Democratic economic guru Robert Rubin, is that big business does matter to Democrats. To be successful, a Democratic presidential candidate doesn't need the active support of America's CEOs, but he does need to keep them on the sidelines. Jimmy Carter lost his bid for re-election at least in part because business was determined to dump him. Bill Clinton won election and re-election at least in part because the business community, while not strongly supportive, wasn't threatened by him.

Sen. Kerry has accepted this wisdom and has worked since the end of the primary season to moderate the way he's viewed by business. The harsh talk of "Benedict Arnold corporations and CEOs that send jobs and profits overseas" -- a standard line in his stump speech back in January and February -- is gone. Instead, he talks coolly of eliminating tax breaks that encourage companies to send jobs outside the U.S. With Mr. Rubin at his side, he met with the leaders of the Business Roundtable. While there were no apparent converts, he did put the group at ease.

A decision now by Sen. Kerry to make Sen. Edwards his running mate would end that ease, and Sen. Kerry's advisers know it. If Sen. Edwards doesn't get the nod, concern about business backlash will be one reason. If he does, the campaign will be looking for ways to moderate their vice-presidential candidate's business image.

Mr. Edwards's aides already are pointing out that as a trial lawyer, he never brought the kind of controversial class-action lawsuits that drain millions from a company's coffers but provide only minimal benefits to each member of a large group of plaintiffs. Perhaps as a vice-presidential candidate, Sen. Edwards would take up the cause of class-action reform -- a business-friendly position already staked out by Democrats like Sen. Charles Schumer of New York.

The Kerry campaign also could try to minimize damage by tying Mr. Donohue closely to the White House. In a news release last Thursday, the campaign attacked the chamber chief for a speech he gave in San Francisco defending outsourcing, and it called on the White House to disavow his comments. The release went on to cite various ties between Mr. Donohue and the Bush White House, including a meeting he had with Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman in April, as well as various visits by President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney to the chamber over the past three years.


Alan Murray is Washington bureau chief for CNBC and co-host of Capital Report, which airs Tues.-Fri. at 7 p.m.

Write to Alan Murray at alan.murray@wsj.com3

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