Notwithstanding the fact that these days you can't walk down the street in Des Moines without running into one or another campaign entourage, our panelists claimed not to know too much about the men, and woman, who would be president -- let alone forge an allegiance to one of them. All of our entrepreneurs were extremely circumspect: not one was willing to say whom he supported, or if he supported anyone. Indeed, several seemed to find the pool of candidates lacking and the whole nature of politics today suspect. Earlier, when Adam Carroll lamented that when it came to energy and global warming, none of the candidates besides Dennis Kucinich was "willing to step out," others nodded in agreement. (Though it didn't appear like the Ohio Congressman had much support at this table.) "They won't take a risk," said Wayne Hansen.
And so our forum concluded with more of a shrug than with any grand statements. Based on our small sample, I can't predict how small business will vote in Iowa, only that it won't be monolithically Republican. And that Hillary Clinton is unlikely to win them over, either. Neither party can take this bloc for granted.
INC.COM: Are you generally satisfied with the way the campaign is proceeding and the way the issues are being discussed, or not?
WAYNE HANSEN: Eighty or 90 percent of the time, when candidates are asked a question, they don't answer. They answer it in a way that goes round to what they wanted the question to be. As far as I'm concerned, I can't find a candidate out there that will answer a question whenever it's asked directly to them -- I haven't found a politician in the last ten years probably that'll answer a yes or no question with a yes or no, and then explain it. It's incredible to me.
INC.COM: As small business people, do you feel like the candidates are taking you seriously? Are they addressing small business issues?
WAYNE HANSEN: On the day they speak to that group they take you seriously, then the next day they're speaking to somebody else. [Laughter]
INC.COM: OK. I thought I would wrap up by throwing out some names and getting your reaction. Let's start with Mitt Romney.
ROBB SPEARMAN: I like Mitt, I like his background. I think he's a stand-up person. But would I vote for him? Probably not.
HANK EVANS: I like his ideas; I don't think he's electable.
INC.COM: Rudy Giuliani?
JOSH MORE: I like some of his ideas; I don't like others.
ROBB SPEARMAN: Rudy's intriguing.
WAYNE HANSEN: I think if the Republicans get elected, it will probably be Rudy Giuliani, because he'll take New York. He'll bring New York with him, and it has a huge amount of electoral votes.
INC.COM: Hillary Clinton?
ROBB SPEARMAN: No.
HANK EVANS: Heaven help us!
ROWENA CROSBIE: I'm absolutely fascinated by this caucus thing. At my company, we coach people to get the image they want out there. So right now the way I'm looking at the candidates is how people are perceiving them. My entire team is glued to the television and is running off to all of these campaign events, and they come back with reports on this is what Hillary was wearing, this is what she said. Her chief of staff, actually, needs a makeover.
INC.COM: But how do you feel personally about her -- would you vote for her?
ROWENA CROSBIE: I'm undecided right now. If she rang us up, there are a couple of things we'd probably coach her a little differently on. But she's sticking with her agenda pretty well, and is responding to questions well, and is being attacked and seems to be handling it not too badly.
INC.COM: Barack Obama?
JOSH MORE: I like what he has to say, but I'm concerned he's a bit too young.
ROBB SPEARMAN: He's intriguing. We've had Clinton and we've had Bush for so many years -- it just seems like, what, 20 years with them? We need something totally different. I don't know who it is, but something just different.
ADAM CARROLL: There were both Democrats and Republicans at the neighborhood meeting where I saw him, and his strength was that he brought both parties together and created this middle ground where it's OK for Republicans to like him, and it's natural for Democrats to like him. People who had voted for George Bush were now campaigning for Barack.
INC.COM: Mike Huckabee?
ROBB SPEARMAN: No.
INC.COM: Fred Thompson?
ROBB SPEARMAN: Don't know much about him.
HANK EVANS: A disappointment. Much ado about nothing. [Murmurs of agreement around the table.]
ROWENA CROSBIE: He entered with a big splash, but there's not been anything since.
INC.COM: John Edwards?
JOSH MORE: Potential -- we'll see.
WAYNE HANSEN: I don't think he'¶
HANK EVANS: Much ado about even less?
INC.COM: Bill Richardson?
WAYNE HANSEN: Probably of any of the Democrats, he's a little more up front and has a bit more of an agenda that he's willing to share.
INC.COM: Ron Paul?
ROBB SPEARMAN: You know, a whole part of the Republican Party has just distanced itself from him. But he's doing amazingly well -- he's raising money like crazy, he's all over the internet. And he does have a lot of Libertarian ideas that are starting to resonate. I'd be curious to see if after this run he runs on the independent ticket or with the Libertarian Party.
JOSH MORE: So it's pretty much a foregone conclusion that he's not going to win.
ROBB SPEARMAN: No, I don't think so. But he raised $12 million, I think, in one quarter. That's quite remarkable for a guy that they just make fun of in these debates.
INC.COM: Dennis Kucinich?
ADAM CARROLL: I was at another house function where he sat and spoke in front of 70 people, and the guy's an absolute genius. I just don't think he has the charisma to lead a country. But if he were a policy adviser or someone in a cabinet, he'd be awesome.
INC.COM: Anybody want to share a candidate whom they like?
[A long pause ensues.]
WAYNE HANSEN: I haven't decided yet, myself. But I will.
JOSH MORE: I don't think anybody's really risen to the top.
HANK EVANS: I heard an interesting take the other day from two people who should be very knowledgeable in the Democratic party, and both of them said, independently, "Mark my words, the convention is going to be deadlocked and they're going to draft Al Gore to save it -- he'll be the candidate."
INC.COM: And what happens then?
HANK EVANS [laughing]: Beats the Hell out of me!