WASHINGTON - John Rauh, a former plastics company chief executive officer, is making his third run for a U.S. Senate seat from New Hampshire, and this time he hopes to win. Rauh, CEO of Clopay Plastic Products Inc. of Cincinnati for 10 years until 1985, is one of at least five former corporate chieftains seeking posts in the Senate on the Democratic ticket in the 1996 senatorial campaign.
Rauh's Democratic candidacy surprises those who believe the top job at any sizable company should be held by a Republican. But Rauh counts himself a moderate; he received general election campaign support in 1992 from former Sen. Bill Bradley, the popular moderate Democratic senator from New Jersey who retired last year rather than seek a fourth term in 1996.
Rauh lost by 15,000 votes, with nearly a half-million ballots cast in the general election battle between Rauh and then-Gov. Judd Gregg.
Rauh's major campaign goal this year is to reform the nation's campaign finance laws by, among other things, eliminating political action committees.
Because of that stand, Rauh -interviewed Jan. 23 by telephone from his home in Lake Sunapee, N.H. - said he will take no individual contribution in the primary of more than $100, not even from his wife, Mary.
He hopes to keep his moderate standing if he wins his party's primary to battle one-term incumbent GOP Sen. Bob Smith on Nov. 5.
Richard Manning, an analyst with Washington-based Republican consultant Eddie Mahe, said Smith's seat is considered winnable by the Democrats in the fall.
``If the Democrats do as well as the Republicans did in the1994 election, that seat will go to the Democrats,'' Manning said.
Said Rauh: ``Today, ours is not only a global economy, it's a knowledge-based economy. Those of us who have run a business know that when the realities that affect your business change, you must adjust to the realities.''
One of his major concerns is the underemployment of as many as 30 percent of New Hampshire's workers. People are performing jobs for which they are greatly overqualified, and that leads to family stress, he said.
``I believe the election of 1994 had more to do with family stress than with government downsizing,'' he said.
``Our big challenge is to provide job opportunity to all Americans, and I don't think we're doing well.
``I'm running as a businessman who cares that we provide that opportunity.''
First, however, he must overcome former U.S. Rep. Richard Swett in the Sept. 10 statewide primary.
If he does not, Rauh said he has no plans to return to the plastics industry. ``My commitment is to the public side of life.''
Rauh joined Clopay in 1961 ``when it was a window shade company,'' he said.
Before that, he had earned his master's degree in economics at Harvard University's business school and served a stint in the U.S. Army.
While at Clopay, Rauh said the company opened a new product development center and had done research on a number of novel projects, including a polyolefins-based window shade. ``It didn't work,'' he noted.
Rauh was replaced as Clopay CEO during a slump in the home building industry, one of Clopay's biggest markets. Shortly after Rauh left, the company was sold to Instrument Systems, which later became Griffon Corp.
After Rauh, a native of Cincinnati, was succeeded by an investment-banker member of the Clopay board, he and his wife moved north to their current home on Lake Sunapee to contemplate the future.
In the interim, along with some teaching and research work, Rauh accepted a business fellowship at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. He credits inspiration from this fellowship for his first run for the Senate in 1990, when he lost in the primary.
David Lopez, Clopay's general counsel who worked with Rauh from 1978-1985, said he admires Rauh personally, but added Clopay ``is a totally different company than when he was here. The nature of the company has changed enormously, largely because of its building products,'' Lopez said.
Aside from Rauh's departure in 1985, Lopez said top management of Clopay has remained ``relatively stable.'' It retains the same president and four vice presidents it had when Rauh directed Clopay, Lopez said.
When Rauh headed the operation, Clopay was a $134 million business. As the result of a number of mergers, acquisitions and expansions in the decade since Rauh's departure, Lopez said Clopay's three divisions will approach $600 million in revenues this year.
Clopay's plastics division placed 41st in North America in Plastics News' 1995 ranking of film and sheet manufacturers, with $115 million in revenue from those products.