Obama and Romney Spar Over Small Business During First Debate


It's safe to say that the first Presidential debate was not what most expected.

It wasn't the scrappy fight that many pundits were predicting. The “zingers” and one-liners were practically non-existent. There was little mud-slinging or dirt-digging. That's not to say the candidates weren't willing to take jabs at each other when the opportunity came about; however, the debate in general stuck to the issues and the candidates got down to business.

Speaking of business, how did small businesses feature in the debate?

The term “small business” came up 23 times between President Obama and challenger Mitt Romney (with one additional mention from moderator Jim Lehrer) during the proverbial first round of the Presidential battle in Denver, Colorado. This was the first time that the candidates went head to head, and small businesses were not ignored in the conversation. Focus on SMBs took place mostly in the earliest portion of the debate, specifically as the candidates discussed their plans for the American economy.

Who Supports Small Businesses?

Romney was the first to mention small businesses, and specifically did so during his opening remarks. He detailed small businesses once again as part of his five-point plan for restoring the economy.

“It's small business that creates the jobs in America,” Romney began. “Over the last four years, small business people have decided that America may not be the place to open a new business, because new business startups are down to a 30-year low. I know what it takes to get small business growing again, to hire people.”

President Obama brought small businesses to the forefront of the debate as he and Romney tackled each others' tax plans. The President championed his own efforts to help small businesses, noting that he “lowered taxes for small businesses 18 times” and further expressed his desire to continue “the tax cuts that we put into place for small businesses and families.”

The Tax Debate

Taxes have been a hot-button topic for some time, especially considering the President's desire to raise taxes on Americans making over $250,000 per year. Obama and Romney have sparred over this issue at length during the course of the campaign; the President likened his own approach to that of former President Bill Clinton.

“For incomes over $250,000 a year,” Obama began, “We should go back to the rates that we had when Bill Clinton was President, when we created 23 million new jobs, went from deficit to surplus and created a whole lot of millionaires to boot.” The President insisted that such a plan would both reduce the deficit and “encourage job growth through small businesses.”

The debate took another twist as both candidates fought over what constitutes a “small business” and how those businesses should be taxed. Obama opened up the conversation with the following:

“And we do have a difference, though, when it comes to definitions of small business. Under my plan, 97% of small businesses would not see their income taxes go up. Governor Romney says, well, those top 3% they're the job creators, they'd be burdened. 

But under Governor Romney's definition, there are a whole bunch of millionaires and billionaires who are small businesses. Donald Trump is a small business. Now, I know Donald Trump doesn't like to think of himself as small anything, but that's how you define small businesses if you're getting business income."

Romney was eager to respond to Obama's comments concerning those business owners in top 3%, stating that they employ “half of all the people who work in small business. Those are the businesses that employ one-quarter of all the workers in America. And your plan is to take their tax rate from 35% to 40%.”

Throughout the debate, Romney touched on a number of personal anecdotes on the campaign trail, speaking to small business voters and troubled Americans, critical of Obama's plans and past performance. The Republican challenger concluded his argument against the President's tax plan by ending on the following note:

“You raise taxes and you kill jobs. That's why the National Federation of Independent Businesses said your plan will kill 700,000 jobs. I don't want to kill jobs in this environment.”

SMBs and Healthcare Reform

Beyond taxes and the economy, further mention of small businesses was sparse. A large chunk of the debate concerned healthcare, which prompted Romney to criticize the Affordable Care Act stating that a "number of small businesses I've gone to that are saying they're dropping insurance because they can't afford it.”

President Obama contested that the roots of healthcare reform came from his conversations with everyday Americans during the 2008 campaign, as he observed families in financial ruin due to their lack of health insurance. Obama argued that healthcare reform remains crucial in securing financial stability for the middle class.

The closing statements of both candidates weren't so different; both candidates greatly emphasized strengthening the American middle class. Such a theme was apparent throughout both candidates' rhetoric during the debate.

Who Came Out on Top?

In such debates, everyone is eager to know who “won” and who “lost.” So then; who won?

While Romney did not deliver the knockout punch that pundits claim he needed prior to the debate, the Republican contender most certainly held his own. Many concluded that his strong performances during the primary season helped prime him for the first Presidential contest, meanwhile President Obama's relatively lukewarm performance could be explained by his lack of debate competition during the past four years. The Obama campaign's Stephanie Cutter conceded that Romney had “style” and won the debate in that regard, but insisted that the challenger remained vague concerning his policies.

Both sides of the aisle seem to conclude that just by holding his own, Romney managed to “win” this initial debate. Whether or not this is due to President Obama's rust and lack of debate experience remains to be seen. It came as a surprise to many that Obama did not reference Romney's time at Bain Capital or his recent comments concerning the 47% of Americans who do not pay income taxes, two issues that have featured heavily on Obama's campaign ads in swing states. Could such "zingers" have changed the dynamic of the debate?

It should be noted that Romney has been trailing in the polls recently, meanwhile the President holds leads in nearly every battleground state. Romney's debate performance may change the dynamic of the race, but will it give him the bump that he so desperately seeks?

The Bottom Line

The first Presidential debate definitely throws a wrench in our expectations for the 2012 Election. Many Americans will be glad to see that small businesses featured heavily in this debate, with both candidates speaking their minds and explaining why their policies are best for America's SMBs.

Let's hope the conversation continues.

About the Author

Brent Barnhart

Brent Barnhart is a freelance content writer specializing in topics such as Internet marketing and content marketing for small businesses. His goal is to help business owners find their voices online and improve their content strategies. You can reach Brent or find out more at brentwrites.com.

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