It was 9 a. m., and Donald M. Kendall, who sold Pepsi-Cola to the Soviets, was selling John B. Connally to his corporate friends and neighbors over scrambled eggs and grits.
It was an easy sale. Connally regaled the crowd with tales of his youth "reading by the light of a kerosene lamp" on a "mosquito infested farm" in central Texas, and he praised big business to the high heavens.
What is about business?" he asked. "Business is the heart of America. Business is the heart of government."
Before an audience that included some of the top operating officers of such multinational giants as Chase Manhattan Bank, IBM, Continental Oil, Pepsico and American Can, this was hardly the stuff of "Profiles in Courage."
But the crowd loved it. In fact, businessmen all over the country love it. And even if the rest of the nation has not begun to make up its mind about who it wants for president in 1980, Corporate America has.
It is John Connally, self-made millionaire, former secretary of treasury and corporate lawyer.
The list of contributors to his campaign for the Republican president nomination reads like a who's who of American business.
Top operating officers of one of the Fortune 500 firms have already given to connally, causing chagrin among his GOP opponents.
"Corporate America, which is Big Government America, has decided that John Connally and not Ronald Reagan is its candidate," said Lyn Nofziger, who was removed as Reagan's finance director in August.
Connally is comfortable with corporate executives, and they are comfortable with him. Largely, it is a question of style: the charcoal gray three-piece suits, the saber-rattling bravado, the business boosterism, the free-swinging America First rhetoric Connally, plain and simple, looks like a corporate bigwig, and he talks like many of them wish they dared talk.
"He's the same kind of person that many of them are," said George Parker, chairman of Parker Pen Co. "He's forceful. He's articulate. He talks their language."
During the last three months, Connally raised more than $115,000 from oil company officials and $170,000 from bankers and investment firm executives. He raised $823,000 in Texas alone.
He received $1,000 donations, the maximum allowed under law, from William H. Batten, chairman of the New York Stock Exchange; John B. Fery, chairman of Boise Cascade; A. Robert Abboud, chairman of the First National Bank of Chicago; Andrew Heiskell, chairman of Time Inc.; Edgar Kaiser, chairman of Kaiser Industries; William Seaton, vice chairman of Ashland Oil; S. D. Bechtel Jr., chairman of the Bechtel Group of Companies, whose wife and father also contributed $1,000 each, and Roger Morley, president of American Express Co., the name just a few.
His western finance chairman is Benjamin Biaggini, chairman of Southern Pacific Railroad. Robert Stuart Jr., chairman of Quaker Oats, raised $106,000 at a luncheon for Connally at his Lake Forest, III., home. J.Willard Marriot is cochairman of a fund-raishing event in Washington next week.
James W. Davant, chairman of Paine Weber Inc., is on Connally's national steering committee. Other prominent supporters are Robert Malott, chairman of FMC Corp., a Chicago-based conglomerate; Paul Oreffice, president of Dow Chemical; L. L. Colbert, former president and chairman of chrysler, and Joseph Collinson, chairman of Textron Corp.
Connally dismisses questions about his being the candidate of the board room with a shrug.
"That's baloney," he said in Purchase, a Westchester County community that has become the home of a number of large corporations. "I've got 10,000 contributors. These are not all board room people at this breakfast. They are just young executives. I'm just trying to raise money to run a campaign." a
If there were a corporate book on other presidential candidates, it might look like this:
Jimmy Carter, weak and an embarrassment abroad; Ronald Reagan, too old; Senate Minority Leader Howard H. Baker (R.-Tenn.), stay in the Senate; George Bush, a nice guy, and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), scary but a respected politician.
But it is not clear Connally can translate the support of Corporate America into the Republican nomination, let alone the presidency.
While Connally has had great success in building his war chest he has been unable to move his ranking in the public opionon polls above 17 percent. thus, there is no assurance he has a lock on business money.
"I'm not willing to concede that Connally has raised all the money that can be raised among big business," Mike Deaver, a top Reagan aide, said in an interview. "Businessmen have to be smart or they wouldn't be where they are. They can read the polls. They like to go with winners."
What attracts business to Connally, who as Richard Nixon's treasury secretary pushed hard for wage and price controls, a policy traditionally opposed by most businessmen?
It has to do with outlook rather than any specific policy. Connally, they say, knows how government and business works. He is a big business, big government man. So are many of them.
There is a genuine sense of missionary zeal among many of these men, a feeling that the country is going to hell in a handbasket and that John Connally is the only man alive who can save them at Armageddon.
"There's a real nervousness about the drift the country is taking," said Parker, a former GOP national committeeman from Wisconsin. "What a lot of us are looking for is someone to come in, take charge and tell us what to do."
Connally, said Dr. Beurt SerVaas, an indianapolis industrialist and publisher, "represents the old-fashioned economic power which is being eclipsed by a new elite," made up of the media, the government bureaucracy and academicians.
At the heart of Connally's success in wooing Corporate America is that most invaluable of political skills -- the ability to make and use contacts. During his years in government and corporate law, Connally has rubbed shoulders with many of the movers and shakers in American business. He has nurtured those contacts.
SerVaas, who is editor and publisher of the Saturday Evening Post, is one of them.
"I've seen this man work in government," he said. "I've traveled abroad with him. I've visited with him at his ranch. I've walked with him beside the gravestones of his ancestors who fought on the Confederate side during the Civil War. I've seen the house he grew up in. I think he's a real Horatio Alger."
When Connally took a trip to South Africa and Rhodesia in August 1978, SerVaas went along. He was so impressed with the way Connally handled himself that he decided to throw the weight of his magazine behind Connally after he returned home.
Since then, the magazine has endorsed Connally in an editorial, carried a flowery cover story on him and written a biting profile on Kennedy, a potential Connally opponent. SerVaas, who has owned steel forging plants, a chemical company and a business college, has also tried to recruit fellow industrialists into the Connally camp.
cYou find so many corporate executives lined up with John Connally because they're desperate men," he says. "Corporate America today realizes there's a real danger that something could happen to America which might not be called a Depression but would have profound effects on the economy."
Connally's business connections provide a ready fund-raising network across the country. David H. Murdock, a 56-year-old high school dropout who lives in Beverly Hills, Calif., was a Connally connection in Iowa. A dapper, white-haired man with a booming bass voice, Murdock checked into the Fort Des Moines Hotel in Des Moines Aug. 14.
He spread across his bed a stack of white index cards bearing the names of people he had business dealings with in Iowa and got on the phone."I believe in John Connally and I'm here to help him," he told one prominent Republican.
Murdock is the kind of man who does not have any trouble getting corporate executives to return his calls. Although his name is almost unknown outside business circles, he is rich. Very rich. He owns office buildings, shopping centers, warehouses, an insurance company, a trucking firm, a steel company, cattle and real estate interests and a big chunk of Union Oil Co. Last year Fortune magazine estimated he was worth between $200 million and $300 million.
Murdock struck paydirt in Iowa. By the time he left the state two days later, he had recruited two of the most powerful businessmen in Des Moines, John Ruan and John Fitzgibbon, to serve as cochairmen of a fund-raising cocktail party for Connally.
The party was scheduled two weeks later, an incredibly short time to put together a major fund-raising event. But the cochairmen knew the right buttons to push. Fitzgibbon is the chief executive officer of the biggest bank in the state, Iowa Des Moines National; Ruan is chairman of the second largest bank, Bankers Trust. He also owns a huge downtown office complex, and so many other companies it takes 1 1/2 pages in the Des Moines phone book to list them.
"Of course, when you get two titans like that up against one another it gets to be a competitive thing," said one businessman who knows them. "Fitzgibbon wants to do his part for the cause, and Ruan wants to go him one better."
Because of the power and respect the two men hold in the state, many corporate executives found the invitation to see Connally an offer they could not refuse. "John Ruan just got on the phone to everyone he knew in the state, and when John Ruan calls, you come," said Stephen W. Roberts, Iowa Republican chairman.
The cocktail party raised $17,750 for Connally.