Elections

Banks have a big stake in the presidential race

Wells Fargo Bank in San Francisco.
Adam Jeffery | CNBC

With the financial crisis still fresh in voters' minds, big Wall Street banks served as an easy target in the 2012 presidential election.

But as outrage has cooled so has the tough talk from the bevy of hopefuls looking to win the 2016 race. Bigger hot-button issues like immigration, wealth inequality and guns have taken the focus, and the vitriol toward Wall Street, while not gone altogether, is at least a little quieter.

"In terms of big-ticket issues, yes, the bull's-eye is gone," Dick Bove, the widely followed vice president of equity research at Rafferty Capital Markets, said in an interview. "In terms of are we going to continue to fight around the edges, that's going to continue for the next three to five years. ... There are still people whose jobs are dependent on going after the banks."

The next president for sure will have plenty to contemplate regarding the $15.5 trillion U.S. banking industry. There are multiple bills making their way through Congress — most notably the reforms spearheaded by Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., that seek to change the way institutions are declared systemically important, along with a bevy of other provisions.

And, of course, there is the Dodd-Frank law which continues to be implemented and has brought fundamental changes to banking, particularly at the big firms that helped create the financial crisis firestorm.

But on the campaign trail, there's little talk about reform, at least on the GOP side. While Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton is calling for a breakup of the big banks, not a single one of the Republicans who will take the stage at the CNBC debate Oct. 28 even responded to interview requests for this report.

Gone, too, are the drum-thumping protests of Occupy Wall Street, which camped out a few blocks away from the New York Stock Exchange back in 2011 and 2012. In their place has come a nuanced world where some candidates may talk tough on big banks to score political points, but the heavy lifting for regulating the institutions is largely in the past.