Billionaire investor George Soros, the biggest financial contributor to the failed effort to defeat President George W. Bush in November's election, said Democratic challenger John Kerry was a flawed candidate.
Soros, chairman of Soros Fund Management LLC, spent $26 million in last year's campaign that he said was undermined by the candidate he supported.
``Kerry did not, actually, offer a credible and coherent alternative,'' Soros, 74, said yesterday in an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. ``That had a lot to do with Bush being re-elected.''
The comments by the Hungarian-born Soros marked his sharpest criticism of Kerry, a Vietnam War veteran who later spoke against the war and focused his campaign against Bush on the war in Iraq. Republicans gained four seats in the Senate, including the defeat of the Senate's highest-ranking Democrat, Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota. Republicans have 55 seats in the 100-seat chamber.
The Kerry campaign ``tried to emphasize his role as a Vietnam War hero and downplay his role as an anti-Vietnam War hero, which he was,'' said Soros. ``Had he admitted, owned up to it, I think actually the outcome could have been different.''
Soros said he also now questions ``what the Democratic party stands for.'' Democrats need to counter ``a very effective conservative message machine,'' he said. ``There really needs to be an alternative.''
Still, Soros said the money he spent was worthwhile, and that he will remain active in U.S. politics.
``I don't feel it's an investment that's gone bad, because when you stand up for principles you have to do it whether you win or lose,'' Soros said. ``I'm distressed that Bush was re-elected, but I don't feel that I wasted my money.''
Soros donated millions to the Media Fund, a group that ran television, print and radio advertisements against Bush, and America Coming Together, a group that mobilized voters in battleground states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania.
He also personally bought anti-Bush ads in newspapers around the country, and went on a 12-city speaking tour to criticize Bush's foreign policy.
Kerry, a Massachusetts senator, said in a Newsweek interview that he lost because he failed to connect with voters, the magazine reported in its Jan. 10 issue. He also attributed his loss to Bush's head start in organizing and fund-raising, and Bush's advantage of incumbency, particularly at a time of war, the article said.
Soros criticized Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan for cutting the benchmark U.S. interest rate to a four decade low of 1 percent, saying he gave Bush's re-elected chances a boost. ``So as far as I'm concerned, (Greenspan) lost credibility.''
Federal Reserve spokeswoman Michelle Smith declined to comment on Soros's remarks.
While he's not decided whether he'll continue to support candidates, Soros said he wants to raise the issue of America's role in the world. He questioned Bush's call in his inaugural address that the U.S. would seek to spread democracy.
``My conclusion is that America is an open society, the most successful, the most powerful in the world, that doesn't understand the first principle of an open society, namely that we may be wrong,'' he said. ``And as long as we have that position, we are not really qualified to propagate democracy all over the world.''
The Bush administration was ``conspicuous by its absence'' at the World Economic Forum, avoiding a growing consensus that much more needs to be done to alleviate world poverty, eradicate disease, and deal with global warming, Soros said.
``I think if the rest of the world succeeds in getting together to address these problems, reluctantly the Bush administration will have to go along. Because I think American public opinion will push them to do it,'' Soros said.
In a Davos speech, U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, the closest U.S. ally in Europe, called on the U.S. to cooperate more with other nations. ``If America wants the rest of the world to be part of the agenda it has set, it must be part of their agenda, too,'' he said Jan. 26.
Soros said he's no longer actively investing and is primarily interested only in earning enough to support $300 million in annual spending on philanthropic and political projects.
``We converted the Quantum Fund into the Quantum Endowment Fund. It's meant to be more like an endowment fund,'' Soros said. ``It's a very different objective from when I was active, trying to make money.''
Mark Schwartz, Soros Fund Management's chief executive officer, left the firm Jan. 3, the sixth senior executive to leave Soros Fund Management since 2000.
Schwartz oversaw a reorganization that involved shedding the real estate, credit and lending units and putting Soros's sons in charge. The sons, Robert, 41, and Jonathan, 34, in October were named co-deputy chairmen of the New York-based firm, which manages about $8.3 billion.
They are in charge of ``overall management, and maybe developing an internal team,'' Soros said. For now, Soros Fund Management is using outside investment managers, he said.