The appeal of chief-executive experience in a political candidate sustained enormous damage in election returns on Tuesday – and not just by the fact that the ex-CEO at the top of the ticket, Mitt Romney, couldn’t leverage his business experience, acumen and resume into the presidency in a campaign conducted during the worst economic malaise in the United States since the Great Depression.
All eight ex-CEOs or business owners who were highlighted for their political ambitions in a Chief Executive story in the September/October issue got defeated at the polls on Election Day. Generally, as apparently with Romney, voters in their races were underwhelmed by their arguments that executive capabilities and accomplishments would translate into sound political leadership.
At a time when the U.S. economy can’t gain much traction, job creation is tepid and fiscal and budget issues loom large at the federal and state levels, that 0-8 result amounts to quite a repudiation of candidates whose executive leadership and business experience would seem to provide the right qualifications for the times.
Add it to the fact that Romney’s CEO resume ultimately seemed to matter little to the electorate. President Obama tarred the Republican candidate in early advertising as having been a greedy, outsourcing, job-slashing marauder when he was in charge of Bain Capital, and Romney never tried hard enough to change that caricature. He effectively sacrificed his business accomplishments on the altar of political expediency when just the opposite strategy may have helped.
Or, as commentator Daniel Henninger put it in the Wall Street Journal post-election: “In the United States ‘business experience’ is now a political liability.”
Besides Romney, each of the other ex-CEOs and business owners highlighted in our story also saw their leadership qualifications overwhelmed by other factors:
Linda McMahon, running as a Republican for the Senate seat from Connecticut for the second time in two years, lost to Democratic Rep. Chris Murphy in a very blue state. McMahon along with her husband, Vince McMahon, founded and ran World Wrestling Entertainment. She spent $50 million in her 2010 race and $42 million this time around. The race got nasty, as McMahon shed light on property owned by Murphy that faced foreclosure, and he showed that she had been late paying property taxes several times.
Tom Smith, a Republican running for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, lost to incumbent Democratic Sen. Bob Casey. Coal-company owner Smith was a Tea Party favorite and spent a reported $16 million of his own money on the race. He relied on broad Republican themes of fiscal restraint and criticized Obama for squelching entrepreneurship. Casey was a big favorite of organized labor and was way ahead in polls through August, but Smith used TV ads hammering Casey to draw close.
Jim Graves, the only Democrat among the eight, lost to Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann in suburban Minneapolis. Graves is CEO of Graves Hospitality and was considered to have a shot against Bachmann, a Tea Party leader and ultra-conservative. But a big war chest and redistricting helped her re-election bid prevail even over a personal boost to Graves by former President Bill Clinton at a rally in Graves’ hometown of St. Cloud, Minn. Graves couldn’t attract enough Republican moderates to outstrip Bachmann’s core Tea Party support.
Bill Maloney, a Republican running for governor in West Virginia, was defeated by incumbent Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. Maloney founded North American Drillers, in Morgantown, and campaigned in part on his can-do ability as an entrepreneur. But his campaign focus was on Tomblin’s failures in school reform and the state’s joblessness. Tomblin’s two years in office and message urging stability, as well as backing by a long roster of special-interest groups, trumped Maloney’s wide-ranging critiques of his performance.
Dave Spence, a Republican running for governor in Missouri, was defeated by incumbent Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon in a job-themed campaign that highlighted their differing economic visions. Spence claimed that Nixon’s anecdotal examples of job growth during his tenure masked the truth about a poor economy that was trailing those of Missouri’s neighboring states. But Nixon was able to point to numerous ground breakings and plant expansions in Missouri lately and also highlighted his credentials as a budget and tax cutter who was able to work with the state’s Republican-led legislature.
Kevin Raye, running as a Republican for Congress in the 2nd District in Maine, was beaten by incumbent Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud for the second consecutive time. Raye had founded Raye’s Mustard Mill, a small manufacturer and tourist attraction in Eastport, and also was an influential state legislator. He also positioned himself as a defender of U.S. manufacturing. Still, the two candidates mirrored one another’s views on many issues except Obamacare, which Raye attacked and Michaud defended.
Randy Altschuler, a Republican who opposed Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Bishop in the 1st District of New York, lost after a bruising rematch with the incumbent. Altschuler was executive chairman and co-founder of CloudBlue, an electronics-equipment recycler, but he couldn’t prevail despite major super-PAC spending on his behalf. He had lost to Bishop, a former college provost, in the same race just two years ago, and voters saw no need to make a change.
Joe Carvin, who ran as a Republican for Congress in the 17th District in New York, couldn’t defeat incumbent Democratic Rep. Nita Lowey. Carvin, a hedge-fund founder and manager, touted his business experience and said it would help him get legislation that would support jobs. But Lowey was a veteran Democrat running for her 13th term with a solid fund-raising operation.