WASHINGTON - The election of George W. Bush as president, far from a certainty late last week, would create a nearly ideal Washington scenario for auto industry movers and shakers who heavily backed his candidacy.
The White House and Congress would both be in Republican hands for the first time since 1954. The agenda would include such industry staples as estate tax repeal. And the White House staff would be headed by Andrew Card, a General Motors vice president.
But with election results facing unprecedented challenges, none of that was certain late last week. And the tightness of the race raised the possibility of rancor and gridlock in Washington.
'I make no assumptions about who is going to be in the White House in January,' said Timothy MacCarthy, president of the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers.
As one of a platoon of industry lobbyists trying to prepare for whomever will be president, MacCarthy said the sharply divided electorate created a big problem for the eventual winner: 'It's hard to figure out what the mandate is.'
Either Bush or Democrat Al Gore could take office without winning the popular vote. The GOP margin in the House could be as low as 220-213 with two independents. And the Senate could be at 50-50, with tie votes broken by Vice President Dick Cheney, if Bush is president.
Thomas Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said he sees 'a government mix that doesn't really leave anyone in charge.'
He said this could be a time of opportunity, a time for government coalitions to be formed and for bipartisan progress to be made on taxes, trade, legal reform and health care.
More likely, however, is a period of political stalemate, inflamed rhetoric, hurt feelings and early jockeying for advantage in the 2002 congressional elections.
In the meantime, business lobbyists, aware that their fate depends as much on people appointed to office as those elected, were heartened by the news that Card would be the chief of staff in a Bush White House.
'He's a first-class public servant,' MacCarthy said.
Card was Transportation secretary and deputy chief of staff in the administration of former President Bush. He is on leave from GM, and has been a top deputy to candidate Bush much of this year.
In addition to knowing that at least one industry friend would have a key role in a Bush presidency, industry officials had a clear picture of what a Bush White House would mean. Not all of it is to their liking.
During the last days of the campaign, Bush spoke sarcastically of gasoline-electric hybrid-powered motor vehicles. It was one of his ways of criticizing Gore tax plans, which feature a variety of tax credits over an across-the-board tax cut.
Automakers are rushing hybrids to market and view tax credits as essential to building consumer acceptance.
Gloria Bergquist, vice president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said her organization believes the remarks reflect 'more about how he feels about Gore than how he feels about hybrids.' Should Bush make it to Washington, she said, 'We'd be happy to clarify (the importance of tax credits) for him.'