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Monday, February 05, 2007

Hillary Wins Support From Businesses, Ex-Foes, Aiding 2008 Bid

Hillary Wins Support From Businesses, Ex-Foes, Aiding 2008 Bid
Feb. 5 (Bloomberg) -- Buried in the campaign filings for Hillary Clinton's 2006 re-election were $3,000 in donations from America's Health Insurance Plans, a trade group.
ADVERTISEMENT That may seem like no big deal for the New York senator, who raised $51 million as she coasted to victory in November. What's surprising is that America's Health Insurance Plans is the same group that vilified Clinton in 1993 with the ``Harry and Louise'' commercials -- an advertising blitz that helped doom her plan to guarantee health-insurance coverage for all Americans.
Why the change of heart? Clinton worked with Republicans to back one of the Washington-based organization's priorities: setting up electronic networks to help doctors share patient information. ``We made the decision to invest the resources because of that leadership,'' says Karen Ignagni, president of the group.
The insurance lobby is just one of the unlikely friends that Democrat Clinton has won during her time in the Senate, more than a dozen years after her universal health-care proposal -- derided as ``Hillary Care'' -- saddled her with a reputation as a ``big- government'' liberal.
Drugmaker Roche Holding AG gave the maximum allowed to her 2006 campaign. News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch threw a fund- raising event for her in July. Even some of President George W. Bush's biggest backers, including Morgan Stanley Chief Executive Officer John Mack, supported her.
Neutralizing the Opposition
Those inroads may help smooth the path to the presidency for Clinton, 59, who last month announced she's ``in to win'' the 2008 election. While many business executives will remain suspicious, she may be able to neutralize a potential groundswell of opposition, helping her to take on Republican hopefuls such as Arizona Senator John McCain (news, bio, voting record).
``In some ways, John McCain may have been tougher in the past years on corporate interests than Hillary Clinton has,'' says Richard Bond, former chairman of the Republican National Committee. ``She will get her reasonable share of support from the business community, and nobody should be surprised.''
Clinton says there was no master plan to change her image as the bogeyman of the business world.
``I didn't consciously set out to increase the support, so much as I tried to do the job that I had as the senator from New York,'' she said in an interview. ``I tried to take a very broad view toward what I could do as a senator to try to work with the business community.''
`Scared the Devil Out of Me'
The former first lady still draws plenty of animosity from the collapse of her health-care plan when her husband was president. Dick Armey, the former Republican leader in the House of Representatives, says Clinton's plan ``scared the devil out of me'' and charges that she's a liberal masquerading as a centrist. Texas entrepreneur and Republican donor Dick Collins set up a Web site called ``Stop Her Now.''
And polls show that more than 40 percent of Americans view her unfavorably, a number that dwarfs those of other presidential candidates. That's a ``dangerous level,'' says Karlyn Bowman, a public-opinion analyst at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.
``There's all these perceptions of her,'' says Marc Lasry, 47, a Clinton fund-raiser and founder of New York-based Avenue Capital Group, a hedge fund that employs Clinton's daughter, Chelsea. Lasry says he tells skeptics: ```Meet her; if you don't like her, don't donate.' After people meet her, they very quickly end up supporting her.''
Worth Copying
Top Democrats say her experience winning over voters and constituents in more conservative parts of New York offers a road map for how she may perform as a presidential candidate.
``None of us knew what she could do as a candidate until New York,'' says former New York Governor Mario Cuomo. ``Everybody was afraid of what upstate would do,'' he says, referring to the Republican-leaning part of the state outside the New York City metropolitan area. ``She educated all of us.''
Her presidential-campaign chairman, Terry McAuliffe, says he and Clinton talked about upstate New York a lot when she ran against Republican Rick Lazio in 2000. Her ``listening tour'' helped her win support, and today she has a majority-approval rating in a region that her advisers say is equivalent to a ``red'' Republican state.
``She has worked hard to get them business,'' McAuliffe says.
In November 2004, she helped a Lockheed Martin Corp. plant in New York win a contract to build new Marine One presidential helicopters. She called British Prime Minister Tony Blair and suggested he personally lobby Bush on behalf of the U.S.-British coalition of companies.
`She Was There'
Two months later, Lockheed wrested away the $1.7 billion deal from Hartford, Connecticut-based United Technologies Corp., which had made the helicopters for half a century. ``She was there, win or lose,'' says Lockheed spokesman Tom Jurkowsky. Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed gave $10,000 to her re- election.
Clinton has also fought off corporate critics by developing a firm grasp of financial issues, says economic adviser Roger Altman, a former deputy Treasury secretary.
``She's on a friendly, first-name basis with several hundred business leaders in this state,'' says Altman, 60, chairman of the New York boutique investment-banking firm Evercore Partners Inc. ``Business leaders who have had some serious exposure to Senator Clinton always say the same thing, which is, `Wow, is she smart, and wow, is she informed.'''
In October, Altman participated in a lunch with Clinton and a group of financial executives. When the conversation turned to how various companies compare in return on capital, ``she didn't miss a beat,'' Altman says. ``She understood these relatively technical issues -- all of them -- and she could debate those in this Wall Street jargon as well as they could.''
$6 Million in Donations
In her race for re-election in 2006, executives in the finance, insurance and real-estate industries gave her about $6 million, three times more than in 2000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington research group. The employees of Citigroup Inc. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. represent her two biggest groups of corporate donors.
``There was a little trepidation when she got elected,'' says Heidi Miller, 53, a Clinton fund-raiser and chief executive of treasury and security services at New York-based JPMorgan Chase & Co. After the election, Clinton courted bankers. ``They weren't big supporters the first go-around,'' Miller says. ``She wants to make sure that doesn't happen again.''
Just a week after her November re-election, she met with a group of corporate executives at JPMorgan's headquarters in New York to talk policy. The group includes Pfizer Inc. Vice Chairman David Shedlarz and Stephen Schwarzman of the Blackstone Group.
Biggest Since Gates
There's little doubt business executives want to learn more about Clinton. An appearance last year at the Economic Club of Chicago drew 2,800 people -- the biggest crowd that club President Grace Barry can remember since Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates talked about the ``information superhighway'' in 1995.
One of those who attended, Miles White, chief executive officer of Abbott Laboratories, says he found himself agreeing with Clinton on issues such as the need to improve education. White, 51, says the speech and a private chat with the senator changed his opinion of her -- though it may not change his vote, since he disagrees with her on many topics.
As for the 1993-94 health-care plan that his industry fought so hard against, White says, ``I don't fault her or anybody else for trying to figure out solutions.''
Clinton has embraced business concerns on a number of key votes during her six years in the Senate.
Backing Visas, Free Trade
Her support for fewer restrictions on worker visas helped her earn a 35 percent rating in 2005 from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. That ranked Clinton above 14 of the other 43 Senate Democrats that year, lending credence to her advisers' depiction of her as a centrist.
She was one of only 11 Democrats to vote for the U.S.-Oman free-trade agreement last Sept. 19. In August, she voted to allow offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, which passed 71-25.
Not everyone is convinced.
``The Hillary Clinton that we saw during the Hillary Health Care Initiative is most certainly closer to her philosophy than the positions she's taken as a senator,'' says Dirk Van Dongen, president of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors and a dean of Washington's lobbying corps. ``She has done an extraordinarily good job portraying herself as less than a flaming liberal. I'm not so sure that what you see is what you get.''
After Bill Clinton assigned her to reinvent the health-care system in 1993, she came up with a plan that would have written into law a guarantee of health coverage for all Americans by, among other things, requiring businesses to pay for 80 percent of the cost for their workers.
Praise at First
The president introduced the plan on Sept. 22, 1993, and the first round of polls found it had the support of a majority of Americans. Hillary Clinton appeared before five congressional panels to tout the program, initially drawing high marks.
Armey of Texas, then the third-ranking House Republican, and one of his top aides, Ed Gillespie, spied an opportunity. Gillespie came into Armey's office and told him they needed to figure out a way to show the public the plan was far too complex and invasive, Armey says. The result was a flow chart of boxes depicting the bureaucracy they said the plan would create. It proved to be a powerful visual weapon.
At the same time, groups from drugmakers to the National Restaurant Association joined to fight the plan on Capitol Hill and in towns across the U.S. An ad campaign funded by a group that later became part of America's Health Insurance Plans showed a middle-class couple, dubbed Harry and Louise, fretting that the plan wouldn't allow them to pick their own doctors.
The plan died a year later, and Hillary Clinton lived with the extreme-liberal label for the rest of her husband's tenure.
`Big-Government Liberal'
``Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail will look more like me because she knows what it takes to get elected,'' says Armey, 66. ``You've got a hard, committed left-wing, big-government liberal. That's who she is. You just take a look at any position presented to you by anyone in public office in the last 20 years and ask yourself who scared the devil out of me the most, the quickest? The answer is Hillary Clinton with health care.''
Gillespie, 45, who went on to head the Republican National Committee, says Clinton shouldn't be underestimated. In September, he told the Association for Corporate Growth in Washington: ``She is every bit as smart as her husband, every bit as political as her husband, and meaner than her husband.''
Still Scarred
Clinton jokes that she still has the scars from the health- care debate. ``I come into this experience with my eyes wide open,'' she said on her first campaign trip last month in Davenport, Iowa. ``People know we have to change. What we're not agreed upon is what we have to do.''
Clinton said she's still gathering ideas for a new plan. ``This time, we're going to build a consensus first, so when Harry and Louise show up, people say, `Oh, turn that off, that's just not true,''' she said.
Clinton's presidential hopes may also be boosted by a growing consensus among politicians, business leaders and voters that the nation's health-care system needs an overhaul. The number of uninsured has grown by at least 7 million, to about 47 million, since 1994.
New York Life Insurance Co. Chairman Sy Sternberg, 63, says he often encounters people skeptical about Clinton. Once at a party, a woman told him she would have trouble supporting her because ``she's very tough.''
``I said, `Wouldn't you feel good if she was sitting across the table from Putin?''
To contact the reporters on this story: Kristin Jensen in Washington at ; Jonathan Salant in Washington at
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