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Obama better for private equity?

October 1, 2012: 12:09 PM ET

Dropping a bit of unconventional wisdom.

FORTUNE -- Mitt Romney is this election's private equity candidate, in terms of both resume and financial support. But could President Obama actually be better for the industry?

That was the question being pondered recently by a private equity investor who knows Romney and has contributed to his campaign. Here was the (highly-conditional) gist of his argument:

If Romney becomes president, getting federal regulatory approvals could become difficult for private equity firms and their portfolio companies. Everything from anti-trust to oil drilling rights to CFIUS rulings. Not because Romney is a proponent of increased regulatory scrutiny -- he is, in fact, the opposite -- but because the appearance of conflicts could prompt regulators to unfurl new, largely-artificial red tape. After all, imagine the uproar if a major Romney supporter appeared to be getting preferential treatment for one of his firm's deals. And then triple it if the beneficiary is Bain Capital.

What may be preferable, argued the investor, is a second Obama term with someone from private equity chosen to succeed Tim Geithner at Treasury. Perhaps Tony James from The Blackstone Group (BX). Or Larry Fink from BlackRock (BLK). Or, and this is an even longer shot, Glenn Hutchins from Silver Lake Partners.

To be sure: None of these choices seem to be at the very top of Obama's list (Erskine Bowles and Jack Lew are front-runners, according to WSJ). But they could provide a valuable bridge between the Administration and Wall Street, without having to choose another bank CEO or New York regulator. Sure, they'd be a PR hit if the guy who fells Romney in November decides a PE exec is best to run Treasury -- but second-term presidents are very well-situated to assume such short-term headline damage.

And, from private equity's point of view, they'd get one of their guys in the White House without the collateral damage to the prospect of their deals getting done. Back-room advocacy, rather than front-room audits.

None of this, of course, reflects on broader economic policy differences between the two candidates, or their tax policy differences that would particularly affect private equity (Obama would tax PE more, Romney effectively has no position). And the investor I spoke with still plans to vote for Romney ("he's a friend"), but adds that if Obama wins and picks someone like James or Fink, "it might actually work out better for us in the long-run."

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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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