Kerry’s choice likely to play better with consumers
The San Francisco Chronicle
One thing is certain: Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry didn’t tap Sen. John Edwards to be his running mate to win brownie points with the business community.
Kerry’s decision to pick Edwards, a former medical malpractice attorney who has railed against outsourcing and corporate tax breaks, is certain to infuriate some corporate executives outraged by class-action lawsuits and large jury awards. On the other hand, the choice could encourage consumer advocates, who often complain that neither party has done enough to rein in corporate abuses.
“This will clearly bring front and center the populist revolt against big corporations,” said Jamie Court, author of the book “Corporateering” and president of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights in Santa Monica.
The pick could also encourage some companies and industry trade groups to back President Bush‘s re-election campaign and hurt Kerry’s chances of winning the White House, Court said.
Indeed, the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Tom Donahue, recently vowed to find the “best people and greatest assets” to fight a Kerry-Edwards ticket, according to the Wall Street Journal. A Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman confirmed Tuesday that the comments are accurate.
Republican consultant Scott Reed told CNN last week: “The business community is not going to want a trial lawyer a possible heartbeat away from the presidency.”
Edwards built his personal fortune largely as a trial lawyer, winning $150 million worth of verdicts or settlements in 60 cases in the 1990s, the Associated Press reported. At one point, the North Carolina Lawyers Weekly estimated that he was worth $38 million.
Not everyone in the business community, however, sees the pick in apocalyptic terms.
The head of the Information Technology Association of America, a trade group that represents many Silicon Valley employers, noted that Edwards comes from North Carolina, a state teeming with high-tech companies, making Edwards more likely to be sympathetic to the industry’s key concerns.
For instance, during his presidential campaign, Edwards promised to enact policies to expand access to high-speed Internet access, something technology firms have promoted as a way to spur the economy and the tech industry.
Even though Edwards has rankled some business leaders with his protectionist trade rhetoric, he has been generally considered a moderate in the Senate. Meanwhile, Bush, who has championed free trade in speeches, has irked free traders by supporting some anti-trade policies, including steel tariffs and farm subsidies.
“What they say in a campaign and what they actually do is sometimes different,” said Harris Miller, president of the IT trade group, adding that executives are generally split on whether to support Kerry or Bush.
Moreover, most voters and political donors tend to pay more attention to the person at the top of the ticket, Miller said, making Edwards’ selection less important.
But Edwards’ career as a trial lawyer could still act as a lightning rod for some executives who have been burned by lawsuits.
“Sen. Edwards will be characterized by his opponents as in favor of private lawsuits and against reforms, such as making the loser pay some of the cost of a frivolous lawsuit,” said Tom Campbell, a former Republican congressman who is now dean of the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley. “He will need to inoculate (himself) on this issue very quickly.”
But Edwards does bring Kerry the support of many attorneys, who gave him millions of dollars during his presidential run.
“I’m ecstatic,” said James Finberg, a San Francisco attorney who has handled a number of employment suits against companies and donated $2,000 to Edwards’ campaign.
“He’s articulate. He’s charismatic. He cares deeply about ordinary Americans and is able to convey his passion for the concerns of ordinary Americans,” said Finberg, a partner with Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein.
Without surveying business executives, however, it’s impossible to know exactly what portion of the corporate community is likely to oppose Kerry because of Edwards.
Many industry groups that represent Bay Area employers, including TechNet, the Financial Services Roundtable and the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, declined to comment on Edwards’ selection as Kerry’s running mate.
Union leaders were less reticent in their support for Kerry’s choice, even though some were reportedly hoping that Kerry would pick Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-Mo.
“John Edwards will be a great vice president,” said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, who took care to avoid implying Edwards was a better pick than Gephardt. “Like John Kerry, Edwards has championed the interests of working men and women in the U.S. Senate and is a staunch supporter of workers’ rights.
E-mail Todd Wallack at: [email protected]