Business owners favoring McCain

Republican presidential candidate John McCain has convinced Cheryl Blomstrom that he’d be great for small businesses.

But Barack Obama supporter Betty Mahalik doesn’t want Blomstrom to fall for it.

In their preferences, the women — Reno business consultant Blomstrom and local personal coach Mahalik — demonstrate that the business community isn’t monolithic on the presidential race. But a new national poll shows small-business owners leaning in a clear direction.

The survey, from Illinois paycheck-servicing company SurePayroll, found that, among small-business owners planning to vote for one of the two major-party candidates, 64 percent expect to pull the lever for McCain. The remaining 36 percent said they support Obama.

McCain garners strong support from small-business owners because of long-held stereotypes about party priorities, said Michael Alter, president of SurePayroll.

"I believe a lot of the perception is based on Republicans being known for small government and lower taxes, and Democrats being known for the opposite," Alter said. "There’s a belief that taxes would be lower on small businesses in particular in a Republican administration than they would be in a Democratic administration."

Gauging the feelings of small-business owners is key because smaller operations employ half the country, Alter said. Understanding small proprietors’ priorities can say much about where the economy might head post-election.

The Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce doesn’t track political preferences among its members, and local numbers on small-business support for the candidates is tough to find. But interviews with several small-business owners show a distinct divide based on their biggest concerns.

Folks fretting over the potential for higher taxes overwhelmingly give the nod to McCain.

Obama would reverse the tax cuts that President Bush conceived of in 2003, said Christine DeCorte, a local financial planner doing business through MassMutual. Higher capital gains taxes and bigger inheritance taxes would "kill" her clients, DeCorte said.

Along with restaurateur and former Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt-Bono, DeCorte co-chairs the McCain campaign’s Nevada small-business coalition. She spent eight months assembling business cards, and she is reaching out to move entrepreneurs into her candidate’s camp.

"If only 64 percent of small-business owners favor John McCain, it’s because the other 36 percent have not had time to look at all the facts yet," she said.

Las Vegan Richard Fitzpatrick has checked out all the facts, and he’s squarely in the Obama column.

The high-tech venture capitalist said he especially loves Obama’s plan to eliminate all capital gains taxes on startup businesses.

"(Obama) is the only candidate who really sees the value of startups, of small companies and the great role they play in the economy," Fitzpatrick said.

He also appreciates Obama’s interest in investing in renewable energies, an up-and-coming sector in windswept, sun-seared Nevada. Plus, he said, he likes Obama’s plan to raise teacher pay, because high-tech jobs won’t materialize if the labor force isn’t trained to do the work.

For Mahalik, sole proprietor of business- and personal-coaching company Dynamic Solutions, an Obama administration would mean an end to "rubber-stamping the misguided and very damaging policies that have been in place for eight years."

Female entrepreneurs haven’t enjoyed major gains in landing federal job contracts under the Bush administration, Mahalik said. What’s more, the war in Iraq is siphoning off hundreds of billions of dollars that could go instead to infrastructure and energy development — spending that would benefit small U.S. companies, she said.

"Ultimately, people will have to stand up and say, ‘Enough is enough, and there has to be a change,’ " Mahalik said. "I don’t see that coming if John McCain is elected president."

But business consultant Blomstrom, who’s also president of the Nevada chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, said she’s seen McCain’s concern for small businesses firsthand.

Blomstrom attended the federation’s National Small Business Summit in Washington, D.C., in June. The trade group invited both candidates to attend and address the crowd; only McCain came.

"Sen. McCain spoke to our hearts," she said. "He talked about small business being the engine of the country, and he talked about how small businesses grow the most jobs. Our economic recovery will come through small businesses. It’s going to come from Main Street. We need a president who understands that."

Blomstrom said Obama’s plan to raise taxes on Americans making $250,000 a year would ensnare countless sole proprietors, because the self-employed count business income as personal income. His support of a federal law that would replace secret union ballots with in-person card checks would allow labor unions to roll over smaller companies, she said. Members of the federation tell her they’re just not certain how many new taxes and regulations an Obama administration might advocate.

The union angle also worries Larry Monkarsh, owner of 85-employee LM Construction in Las Vegas. Monkarsh said he’s concerned an Obama presidency could result in regulations mandating that all public-sector contracts go only to unionized companies. Also, more families would have to sell off businesses and farms if the estate tax grows. And his developer clients might cancel projects if they face a higher capital-gains tax.

Business owners have wide-ranging priorities, Alter noted, and neither presidential candidate has made a major bid for entrepreneurs. The contender who crafts and pushes a plan for small businesses could sway the election’s outcome.

"There’s a huge opportunity here," Alter said. "If one side or the other could figure out how to harness the small-business owner vote, they could really change this race."

Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at jrobison@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4512.

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