Money managers and pension executives say Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole is the leading Republican contender for the 1996 presidential race, a Pensions & Investments fax poll shows.
But far fewer would vote for Mr. Dole if the election were held today. And many respondents to the fax poll about GOP hopefuls prefer candidates who stepped out of the race or refuse to run.
While 78% of the 90 respondents to P&I's poll said they think Mr. Dole is the current GOP leader to challenge President Clinton, only 34% said they would vote today for the Kansas senator. Texas Sen. Phil Gramm was considered the top contender by 15.7% of those surveyed, although only 11% would cast a vote for him today. Neither candidate has officially declared his bid for the candidacy.
An overwhelming majority of respondents, 71%, would vote Republican if the election were held today, but only 57% of all respondents named a specific GOP candidate. Fourteen percent said they would vote for "a GOP candidate" without specifying the person. Several of those would vote a straight GOP ticket regardless of the candidate, citing "conservative values" as the reason.
One respondent said the leading Republican candidate was "not yet identified."
One money manager said she favored the Republican candidate because he or she would "get tough on crime, reduce entitlements and have moral backbone."
The financial executives who would vote now for Mr. Dole are strongly supportive. Many cited his long political experience as a quality in the presidential race. One respondent said Mr. Dole was "an experienced leader who can add political stability to the U.S. and the world, and would restore the prestige of the presidency." Another money manager said Mr. Dole's "political experience would minimize (we hope!) the PR bumbles that seem to plague the current administration."
Mr. Dole was perceived to be consistent in his opinions and decision-making. Mr. Dole "would have national priorities in proper order and (would) focus on economic issues vs. social issues," one respondent said.
But others agreed with one money manager who characterized Mr. Dole as "colorless." Another preferred the senator's wife, Elizabeth Dole.
Supporters of Mr. Gramm said they appreciate his decisiveness. Mr. Gramm would "not waffle as much," would "abolish affirmative action programs" and would "have private sector perspective and knowledge" as president, said three pension fund executives. Another respondent described Mr. Gramm as having "more 'smarts,' more experience ... understands economics much better and has more vitality than Clinton or Dole."
Another said the United States needs "a president that understands that government should do no more than (provide) national defense and keep our streets safe. In all other areas, government interferes with the free choices of the individual. Gramm better understands this. Unfortunately, Bob Dole is an old-style, government-by-committee kind of guy."
When asked whom they would most like to see as the Republican candidate in 1996, respondents broadened their wish list considerably. Mr. Dole received 37% of the vote and Mr. Gramm, 12%. After that, the list splintered dramatically. In all, 17 Republicans were named as preferred candidates for the GOP nomination.
Lamar Alexander, the former governor of Tennessee and secretary of education under President Bush, was named by 6% as their top choice. One respondent described him as "an original thinker, who is complemented by his ability to communicate." Mr. Alexander has not removed his name from the list of contenders and has been campaigning among conservative GOP organizers.
William Bennett, secretary of education under President Reagan; Jack Kemp, secretary of housing and urban development under President Bush; and Colin Powell, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Bush; each received 5% of the fax poll vote, even though Mr. Bennett and Mr. Kemp have removed themselves from contention and Mr. Powell has not even declared his party affiliation.
Several respondents like Richard B. Cheney, former secretary of defense under President Bush, but as one respondent said, "he won't run." Mr. Cheney officially removed his name from contention last year.Others named on the wish list, but who have not officially declared their intention to seek the nomination, include Massachusetts Gov. William Weld; California Gov. Pete Wilson; Patrick J. Buchanan, a conservative commentator; Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar; Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson; and New Jersey Gov. Christine Whitman. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich - who removed himself from the list of possible candidates - was named by one respondent.
But not all respondents endorsed the Republicans. One said she would prefer Dan Quayle as the GOP candidate only because he "would be easiest for President Clinton to beat."
Indeed, the president was not without support. Sixteen percent said they would vote to re-elect him. One respondent said President Clinton "seems more visionary" and has been following policies that are better for the economy than his Republican alternatives. The same respondent said the president already has begun to reduce "the budget deficit, together with Rubin & Co."
Other respondents said the president was "more compassionate" than his Republican counterparts and "would see that (budget) cuts made would not hurt the needy as much (as Republicans)." One pension fund executive said President Clinton "has a balanced approach - not untried, radical ideas." A money manager said President Clinton is the "preferable presidential candidate in 1996 because I think he has been better than people give him credit for."
One respondent who voted a straight Republican ticket in 1992 now supports the president's bid for re-election. "During his administration, President Clinton has made changes that are in the best interest of the people of America. The Republicans are (standing) in his way, preventing him from making his leadership a '10.' After two years, President Clinton is getting an 'A' on my grading sheet."
One respondent refused to select a party or a candidate. The money manager said he thought Mr. Dole was the leading contender for the GOP nomination but would refuse to vote because neither he nor President Clinton "has an agenda other than acquiring more power."
The fax poll was sent to 600 subscribers to P&I's daily fax newsletters, a mixture of pension fund sponsors, money managers and other industry executives.