Magazine article American Banker

Election Insights: In N. Carolina Senate Choice, A Big Bank-Small Bank Split

Magazine article American Banker

Election Insights: In N. Carolina Senate Choice, A Big Bank-Small Bank Split

Article excerpt

On the surface, financial institutions in North Carolina seem as evenly split as voters at large when asked to choose between Republican Elizabeth Dole or Democrat Erskine Bowles for Senator.

But look more closely and a serious divide is apparent.

The split only partly boils down to policy differences between the candidates. Size seems to be a factor; the state's biggest banking companies -- Wachovia Corp. and Bank of America Corp. -- heavily favor Mr. Bowles. Ms. Dole, mainly with support from smaller banks, has more than matched him, at least in dollar terms.

Not surprisingly, another calculation seems to matter a great deal: Is the decision a local or national one?

Wesley W. Sturges, the president of First Commerce Bank in Charlotte, favors Ms. Dole, a former president of the American Red Cross and a Cabinet secretary in the Reagan and first Bush administrations. John A. Forlines Jr. who serves on the American Bankers Association's political action committee, contends the best choice for bankers would be Mr. Bowles, who was an investment banker prior to his role as a senior aide in the Clinton White House.

Mr. Sturges, chairman of the North Carolina Bankers Association, said that "one of the biggest concerns in the race is the balance in the Senate. Among the people I talk to, one of the reasons they say they are going to support Ms. Dole is they want the balance to tip to the GOP."

Mr. Forlines disagreed. He said most North Carolina voters' choices will be dictated by local issues.

"I don't think the majority of people are really thinking about" the balance of the Senate, he said. "They are going to vote on the candidates' personalities and how well they are going to serve the people of North Carolina."

Mr. Forlines said that though he became friends with Ms. Dole when they both served on the Duke University board of trustees and has only positive things to say about her, he is backing Mr. Bowles.

"Mrs. Dole, I would be afraid, would be more of a national senator," Mr. Forlines said. "Erskine would be a North Carolina senator. That's what we need. He's a businessman and I think he'll be very interested and helpful on banking issues in the Congress ... and in helping to bring us out of this recession."

Mr. Sturges, on the other hand, prefers Ms. Dole's economic agenda. "She is philosophically aligned with a lot of things we want," he said. "She's very positive on private investment of some portion of Social Security money, and she's in line with the current administration's economic policies that I agree with. …

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