Four prominent Minnesota business leaders announced their support for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on Tuesday, an effort to counter criticism from Republicans that Obama's tax policies would hurt business and stifle job creation.

"We've spent so much time trying to incent those at the very top that we've forgotten about those in the very middle and that makes up the vast majority of the American population," said Robert Pohlad, chairman and chief executive officer of PepsiAmericas, Inc. and president of Pohlad Cos., at a State Capitol news conference announcing the endorsements.

Acknowledging that they might find themselves paying higher tax bills if Obama were elected, the business leaders suggested that more government spending, used prudently, would move people up the economic ladder and strengthen the middle class.

"Our family believes paying taxes is a privilege. My reality is we can afford to support the many who have too little, and we must do so," said Ed Phillips, chairman and CEO of Phillips Beverage Co.

GOP leaders say Obama's tax plan would raise the costs of doing business and would affect everything from gas prices to groceries. Gina Countryman, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota Republican Party, said half of the 500,000 small businesses in the state file as individuals and the Obama plan would adversely affect them. "You are taxing the job creators in Minnesota under the Obama plan," she said.

The Obama campaign disputes that small businesses would be hurt.

Robert Ryan, a retired vice president and CFO of Medtronic, said Obama's health care proposal would benefit the uninsured and underinsured.

Lois Quam, a onetime UnitedHealth executive and now managing director of alternative investments for Piper Jaffray, said business leaders should be concerned about McCain's decision-making skills, pointing to his selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as a hasty bow to the right wing of the Republican Party.

Quam is a longtime Democratic contributor, was a Hillary Clinton delegate to the Democratic National Convention and is the wife of former DFL House Majority Leader Matt Entenza. Phillips, Ryan and Pohlad, whose family owns the Minnesota Twins, have contributed to both Republican and Democratic candidates and political committees over the years, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Mark Brunswick • 651-222-1636