Follow the money: business leaders backing McCain campaign

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Published: March 10,2008

The three candidates who still have a shot at representing their parties in the presidential election have raked in a little more than half a million dollars in donations from Mississippians, the latest campaign finance reports show.

Arizona Sen. John McCain has cemented the Republican nomination. Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton are in a dead heat in the race for the Democratic nomination.
The latest figures available are through January 31, 2008.

McCain, making his second run at the White House, emerged as the favorite after fending off former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Romney quit the race last month. Huckabee, mathematically eliminated in the delegate count, dropped out last week.

McCain’s victory seemed unlikely as recently as fall of last year. Romney and Huckabee were both considered strong candidates whose conservative principles played well among the Republican base; and there was even a time when former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani outpolled the field.

McCain’s outlook dimmed further in January when Huckabee won the Iowa Caucuses, an event generally seen as a good indicator of how each candidate would fare in the subsequent primaries. McCain finished third in Iowa.

McCain rebounded to win the New Hampshire Primary, and has not slowed down since.

The Super Tuesday primaries — when 21 states sent voters to the polls — were McCain’s coronation. He earned 637 delegates that day, more than tripling runner-up Romney’s 190.

Persistence does pay off

Even when McCain was an underdog, it was his stubborn persistence that impressed Phillip Friedman the most. Friedman, CEO of the company that owns McAlister’s Deli, donated $2,300 to McCain’s campaign May 18, 2007, and $500 more July 26.

“I’m not an arch-conservative,” Friedman said, explaining his affinity for McCain, who has often clashed with the conservative base of the GOP over issues like campaign finance reform. “I’m a little more in the middle. I like (McCain’s) leadership.”

Like McCain, Friedman is a Vietnam veteran. Friedman said he has met privately with McCain several times in a non-fundraising capacity and found him to be honest and direct. And even though he held serious reservations about the United States invading Iraq, Friedman understands McCain’s position of leaving forces there as long as it takes to reach a satisfactory end.

“When you go, you have to go,” Friedman said. “He doesn’t do anything halfway. I feel really good about him.”

Campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission show McCain has enjoyed financial support from other prominent Mississippi business leaders, too.

H.C. “Buster” Bailey, whose company is developing Colony Park in Ridgeland, donated $2,300 June 6, 2007. Cellular South president Hu Meena gave $2.300 July 5, 2007, and an Ashley Meena gave the same amount the same day.

Harrell Contracting Group’s Michael Harrell donated $2,300 July 9, 2007. Ben Puckett, chairman of Puckett Machinery, gave $2,300 March 2, 2007. President and co-founder of the Barksdale Corp., James Barksdale, gave $2.300 February 2.

Bailey, Meena, Harrell and Puckett had not, as of press time, returned phone messages seeking comment. There was no phone number available for Barksdale.

Attorneys for Obama

Obama has gotten very little money from the business community. Most of his haul has come from attorneys, most recognizable among them Mike Espy, the former Second District congressman who served as former President Bill Clinton’s secretary of agriculture.

Espy, who practices in Jackson, has donated money to Obama and Clinton. Obama got $2,300 June 27, 2007; Clinton received $1,000 September 19. Espy had not returned a phone message seeking comment by press time.

McCain was not the only candidate Barksdale threw his money behind. Obama received a total of $11,500 in two installments of $4,600 in March of last year and another $2,300 in June.

Shows backing Clinton

Ronnie Shows once served as congressman from Mississippi’s old Fourth District and was vying to replace Trent Lott in the Senate before bowing out of that race last month.

He now is a lobbyist in Washington, and supports Clinton in the presidential race. He pledged $2,300 to her campaign last March.

“I have two former staffers working for her,” Shows said. “I’ve always respected her ability and intelligence. I’ve never understood the bitterness people have toward her.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@ msbusiness.com .

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