For months, President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry have been courting the small-business vote, often through visits and photo ops with dozens of entrepreneurs -- people like Tim Lapp. Lapp, 34, was on vacation when a buddy who works for the Republican National Committee called to ask him if the President could visit his electrical contracting company in Lancaster, Pa. The campaign had zeroed in on Lapp Electrical Service as the venue for a speech about job growth because Lapp had recently added six people to its head count, bringing the total to 59.
The run-up to the visit was intense. Bush was there for only about an hour, but Lapp had to move equipment, install risers and a podium, submit his staff to background checks and interviews with the White House advance team, and let the Secret Service sweep the building for bombs. "It was definitely a production," he recalls.
What does a company get out of a campaign event? Many entrepreneurs see it as a way to help their guy win. They also gain publicity, as well as access to power. Kara Horton, who hosted John Edwards at her commercial printing company, Horton Brothers Printing in North Little Rock, Ark., seized the opportunity to complain to the senator about her health insurance rates. "We wind up helping each other," she says.
Darren McKinney of the National Association of Manufacturers, who refers campaigners to entrepreneurs, notes that some people think these visits are nothing but trouble. "I often hear from people that they're running a business," he says, "and don't have time for a dog-and-pony show."