Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) said he believes business leaders who supported his efforts to raise taxes and balance the state's budget will also support John F. Kerry for president because they are concerned about the economy and the size of the federal budget deficit.
In a conference call with reporters in southern states, Warner said the historical pattern of business leaders backing Republican candidates will be broken this year, nationally and in Virginia.
"You've got more business support this year for the Kerry ticket than even [Bill] Clinton did in 1992," he said. "There's a real unease among many of the business leaders in the state."
On Monday, the Kerry campaign released a list of 200 business executives nationwide who have signaled their support for the Democratic nominee. The list contained three names from Virginia: Vinton G. Cerf, senior vice president of technology strategy for MCI; Roger W. Sant, co-founder and chairman emeritus of AES Corp.; and Warren M. Thompson, chairman and president of Thompson Hospitality in Herndon.
The Democratic National Committee has begun airing a television ad in Virginia called "Strength" that uses clips from Kerry's acceptance speech at the party's nominating convention last week.
Warner expressed optimism that his recent experience building a coalition with business leaders in Virginia will translate into even broader success on behalf of the Massachusetts senator.
"It's not just a one-time event," he said of business support for his tax policies. Warner said the growth of the federal deficit during the last three years has business executives in Virginia worried and more likely to support Kerry. "The business community feels that it is not in the long-term interests of the economy," he said.
Ken Hutcheson, state director for President Bush's campaign in Virginia, said he believes the vast majority of business executives are backing the Republican ticket. "John Kerry isn't even in the same league as President Bush when it comes to business support in the commonwealth of Virginia," Hutcheson said.
And Kate Obenshain Griffin, chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, said in a statement that the state's improving economy "is the direct result of President Bush's tax relief plan to put more money in families' pockets and encourage businesses to grow and invest."
Federal campaign contribution records suggest that Kerry might not be able to count on support from Warner's business backers.
Several of the governor's biggest cheerleaders in the tax fight, including James E. Ukrop, who owns a Richmond supermarket chain, and Fairfax developer John T. "Til" Hazel, have each made contributions of $2,000 to the Bush-Cheney campaign within the last year. So did John O. "Dubby" Wynne, former chairman of Landmark Communications, and W. Heywood Fralin, owner of a nursing home company in Roanoke, who were among the governor's most vocal supporters.
Several of Warner's Republican allies in the state Senate also support Bush.