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How PE execs can still love Obama

September 6, 2012: 11:42 AM ET

Not all private equity executives are backing Mitt Romney.

FORTUNE -- I've spoken to a handful of Obama-supporting private equity execs this week, trying to better understand how they reconcile their presidential preference with his campaign's regular attacks on their industry (yes, I know the Obama campaign says it's only going after Romney, not PE as a whole, but that's just a nice story they tell themselves to feel better about holding fundraisers in Tony James' living room).

The most common response boils down to: We don't blame Obama, we blame Romney.

In other words, Romney knew that these attacks would come if he ran for president, but he went ahead and did so anyway. One of their own opened the door, and that's happened since was an entirely-predictable consequence. Were Obama running against Generic Republican X, the vast majority of Americans would remain blissfully unaware of things like carried interest taxation or dividend recaps.

As for the 1% vs. 99% rhetoric, one Obama-supporting PE pro put it to me like this: "Would you rather get called names on a TV hanging in your Greenwich estate, or would you rather be praised while eating dinner in your trailer between shifts?"

Yes, I know that sounds a bit douchey, but his phrasing shouldn't distract from a broader point that most PE pros have it way too good to get all riled up by some obligatory political rhetoric.

All of that said, there also is a sense that among these execs that, if reelected, Obama will reach back out to those in the PE sector he has alienated. Perhaps that means a cabinet position at Treasury or Commerce, plus really pushing for comprehensive tax reform. A lot of what would be in such a package could be tough for certain PE firms to swallow – changes to carried interest treatment, changes to corporate interest payment deductions, etc. – but they'd prefer (some of) that to the uncertainty they currently feel.

"A lot of investors just trust that a Republican president will act in the best interest of business, even if we don't all agree it's in the best interests of the country, so there is certainty in what those policies will be," another PE investor told me. "That helps us make investments. A Democratic president has to be much more explicit much earlier in order for investors to be comfortable, even if the policies aren't beneficial for us. And the top issue is tax reform."

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About This Author
Dan Primack
Dan Primack
Senior Editor, Fortune

Dan Primack joined Fortune.com in September 2010 to cover deals and dealmakers, from Wall Street to Sand Hill Road. Previously, Dan was an editor-at-large with Thomson Reuters, where he launched both peHUB.com and the peHUB Wire email service. In a past journalistic life, Dan ran a community paper in Roxbury, Massachusetts. He currently lives just outside of Boston.

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