By Marianne Sullivan
Thursday, May 27, 2004
Both the Kerry and Bush campaigns are going after female business owners, a bloc that votes more, earns more and crosses party lines more often than other women.
(WOMENSENEWS)--More than 2,000 women dialed into a conference call last week to hear what Democratic Presidential hopeful John Kerry said he would do to help women who owned small businesses.
The call was part of the Presidential Conference Call Series organized by Women Impacting Public Policy, a bi-partisan public policy organization based in Oklahoma City thatadvocates for female business owners.
It was also part of an effort underway by the presidential campaigns of George W. Bush and John Kerry to court the vote of female small business owners, seen as a key swing vote in this election.
A nationwide, bipartisan survey of female business owners conducted for Women Impacting Public Policy and released in December 2003 indicated that female business owners don't fit a political profile, with 38 percent being independent or independent leaning; 30 percent Republican and 27 percent Democratic.
Female-owned businesses are growing at twice the rate of all U.S. firms, according to the Center for Women's Business Research in Washington, D.C. There are about 10.6 million, privately held concerns--accounting for nearly half of all privately enterprises in the country--in which women own half or more of the assets.
In the 2000 presidential race, Bush received 43 percent of the female vote, while 54 percent of female voters opted for Democrat Al Gore. But while women as a whole traditionally favor Democrats, female entrepreneurs, as Women Impacting Public Policy's survey showed, are more politically diverse and don't always stick to a party.
Female small business owners are also active voters. The Women Impacting Public Policy's survey also indicated that over half have voted in every election in the past 10 years and nearly 9 in 10 voted in all of the most recent elections.
"Increasingly, as most of you on the phone know, women own an extraordinary number of small businesses and manage a huge amount if America's assets and people need to understand that better and recognize it," Kerry said on the call. The Democratic contender went on to tell listeners that he is committed to breaking down barriers and open new opportunities in the small business world.
Kerry has served on the Senate's Small Business Committee for nearly 20 years and changed the name to the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship to ensure that more forms of business gained access to government assistance.
"I want to make sure that we encourage entrepreneurial activity and facilitate women, minorities and creative people to be able to find the money, break into the system, get the technical assistance and provide the things that they deserve," Kerry said.
Specifically with regard to women, Kerry added: "We have to make sure that we facilitate the access to capital; that we eliminate the glass ceiling and that we put more women into the top of government and corporate America. As president I have laid out a plan that will encourage a sensible tax code; promote small business-friendly policies that continue to increase access to capital. I think we can also open more doors to federal contracts. We have to make business training and counseling more available and most importantly we need to make health care more affordable for small businesses."
The Bush campaign said it will continue the policies, like tax relief and increased tax incentives, that the Bush Administration implemented to assist small businesses, including those owned by women. It is in the process of building a coalition to take this message to female small business owners, said campaign spokesperson Sharon Castillo.
"The agenda is one that empowers women," Castillo said, pointing to Bush's 6 Point Plan. That plan includes making healthcare costs more affordable and predictable and new incentives for small business investment.
Some women's groups also praise the Bush administration for the Women's Entrepreneurship Summits, run by the Department of Labor, that have given female small business owners information about access to capital, marketing, acquiring federal contracts and entering global markets.
Both candidates are making special efforts to woo female voters. Kerry has organized Women for Kerry and last week, the Bush-Cheney campaign launched the Bush-Cheney '04 W Stands for Women leadership team. Both campaigns say they will create special teams to mobilize the support of female business owners.
At the end of the Kerry conference call, Barbara Kasoff, Women Impacting Public Policy's co-founder, told listeners to get out and vote and join the newly formed Businesswomen for Kerry.
When introducing Kerry at the beginning of the call, Betty Spence, executive director of New York-based the National Association of Female Executives, one of the host organization's coalition partners, threw her support to Kerry. "We would be thrilled to have this champion of women's small business in the White House."
Kerry sponsored women's business centers and helped women find money to start businesses during his tenure in the Senate.
"He has a plan for affordable healthcare for entrepreneurs and their employees and he will endure more government contracts for women," Spence said.
Women's business organizations are well aware of their power as a voting bloc and are making efforts to inform members about the ways in which these candidates can help female-owned businesses.
Women Entrepreneurs Inc., an Oakton, Va., nonprofit trade association is one of the many such groups.
"We are organizing a voter registration drive, and we are trying to help women business owners reach out to their work forces, because many women don't vote and aren't registered," said Karen Kerrigan, president of Women Entrepreneurs Inc. "We are also trying to build awareness about the importance of voting and the breakdown of the issues.">/P>
The first phase of the group's effort includes a grassroots message campaign that encourages female entrepreneurs to vote.
Another group, the National Association of Women Business Owners, recently joined a nationwide get-out-the-vote effort with the United States Chamber of Commerce. Through its new election Web site, members and their employees can navigate through the election process, from registering to learning about business-related issues to requesting absentee ballots for voters who can't make it to the polls on Election Day.
Marianne Sullivan is a Boston-based freelance writer who writes frequently on economics and finance.
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