Small business owners give narrow debate victory to Obama


President Obama and Mitt Romney argue during the second presidential debate at the David Mack Center at Hofstra University in New York. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
October 17, 2012

President Obama and Mitt Romney faced not one question pertaining directly to small business during their second debate, but that didn’t stop them from selling their policies directly to Main Street.

Obama emphasized his plans to help small firms break into foreign markets and reduce their tax burden. Romney on multiple occasions said he would help entrepreneurs find and retain capital so they can hire new workers and expand their companies, and he criticized the president for adding burdensome regulations.

Related: Our complete small business guide to the presidential election

This time, our panel of small business owners from each of the most closely contested states gave a slight edge to Obama, following a decisive victory for Romney in the first debate. Many commented on the president’s renewed energy and aggresive approach, and several were surprised by the exchanges over the recent attacks in Libya. Overall, repondents thought it was a more spirited and informative debate than the one two weeks earlier.

The panel consisted of one Obama supporter, two Romney supporters, one leaning toward Obama and one leaning toward Romney. The other four business owners remain squarely on the fence. Here’s how each of them scored the debate.

• Jessica Hadler Baines — Florida

President of American Business Group Business Brokers in Orlando

Employees: 1

Reaction to the debate: “Obama is back in the game, and we witnessed a true debate — not on all of the topics, but on many of them. I will not be surprised if we see the words “hope” and “change” return to the press. This event also showed the American public, I feel, that an election cannot be won alone with statistics.”

Biggest surprise: “Obama on immigration. Both candidates had acknowledged that there needs to be reform in the handling of both legal and illegal immigration. As a business broker who deals with entrepreneurs, including several families each year who invest in small businesses in order to move to the United States and get their children into our schools, I was surprised that it was Obama, not Romney, who best addressed this unique category of job creators. The backlog for the path to legal immigration has been reduced significantly, and these families in return for admittance to the country must create jobs for Americans. That’s good for our economy.”

Who won the debate? Obama, narrowly

• Olalah Njenga — North Carolina

CEO of YellowWood Group, LLC in Raleigh

Employees: 3

Reaction to the debate: “ The town hall style debate provided an ideal forum for an interactive and interesting debate. The president was expressive and on point. Romney was combative and seemed to struggle as he attempted to get in verbal jabs. Romney’s sometimes awkward and ill-timed responses often eroded his credibility.”

Biggest surprise: “Romney had an opportunity to respond to the woman who asked how he was different than President Bush. Instead of immediately addressing her concern, Romney was more concerned with having time to respond to Obama’s remarks about women and contraception. Romney forgot that a town hall style debate is about speaking directly to the people who ask the questions, not about being a time keeper looking to get in the last word in a debate.”

Who won the debate? Obama, handily

• Christopher Hytry Derrington - Wisconsin

CEO of Hyder Industries in Two Rivers

Employees: 37

Reaction to the debate: “ Both failed to convince me that 2013 will be better for my business, or that either will be able to compromise to get the deficit reduced. Obama did better on women’s health issues. Romney won the topics on the economy, and that is what is going to decide things in the end. Both candidates stretched facts too much — not impressed by either performance.”

Biggest surprises: “Obama taking responsibility for lack of security in Libya when the same day Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated responsibility was hers. Also, Romney pointing out the “act of terror” announcements with both candidates fumbling the topic, as well as Obama trying to roll back 2nd amendment freedom laws.”

Who won the debate? Romney, narrowly.

• Anne Zimmerman — Ohio

Owner of Zimmerman & Co CPAs Inc and Zimcom Internet Solutions in Cincinnati

Employees: 7 and 6, respectively

Reaction to the debate: “This debate was more engaging to watch. I thought Romney was too aggressive at times and disrespectful but it was good to be able to see them talk directly to each other this time. I thought Obama missed a few opportunities to debunk some statements made by Romney but I think he also allowed Romney to do a bit of damage with his own answers. But overall, Obama showed himself to be the leader he is. He was decisive, aggressive, yet respectful. Romney had some ugly and flustering moments.”

Biggest surprise: “Romney still thinks women should go home early to cook dinner? He is completely out of touch with women.”

Who won the debate? Obama, handily.

• Garrett Dolan — New Hampshire

Owner of Hale Bros., Inc in Seabrook

Employees: 3

Reactions to the debate: “ Ms. Crowley lost control almost immediately. The list of questions and the people who asked them were decidedly “made to order” for the president. Softball questions for the president with cross-examination from Ms. Crowley directed at Mr. Romney. Ms. Crowley not once shepherded Mr. Obama to answer the question posed but consistently directed Mr. Romney to stay on the subject. Lots of talking points from the president. No vision for the future. No defense of his record. But Ms. Crowley’s flagrant suppression of time for Mr. Romney’s responses helped the president win the debate.”

Biggest surprise: “ The president took responsibility for security in Benghazi, not Hillary.”

Who won the debate? Obama, narrowly.

• Scott Graber — Colorado

Owner of San Luis Valley Brewing Company and San Juan Building Management Company in Alamosa

Employees: 32

Reaction to the debate: “Two smart, passionate men going toe-to-toe (literally at times) to win the nations trust. I thought Romney excelled on business and economic issues, but Obama’s passion was back and he hit back tonight. Overall, I came away with more respect for Obama as a ‘good man’ than I had before, but I believe less in his ability to lead our nation as I don’t think his ideas and policy’s are working. The economy is probably the biggest national issue, and Romney’s ability to highlight his successes on economic policy while degrading Obama’s record gave him the edge tonight.”

Biggest surprise: “‘Mr. President, you’ll have a chance in a moment, right now I’m talking.’ — the frankness with which both men went at each other was intense. I liked it, though I’m guessing not everyone did.”

Who won the debate? Romney, narrowly.

• Randall Bradley — Iowa

Owner of Kadina Corporation in Ottumwa

Employees: 75

Reaction to the debate: “ Romney used this opportunity well. He pointed out how bad the last four years have been and then presented what he will do differently to change that. Obama, with the same opportunity, failed. The only thing I hear him saying he will do differently than he has done is tax a little more from the top 2 percent. That won’t fix what is wrong with our economy. This election is not about the last four years, it is about the next four years and Obama is not presenting any new ideas, when clearly his old ideas have failed.”

Biggest surprise: “I was most surprised when Candy Crowley jumped off her objective status and actively defended Obama on Libya.”

Who won the debate? Romney, handily.

• Scott Sklar — Virginia

President of The Stella Group, Ltd. in Arlington

Employees: 10

Reactions to the debate: “ This was an even debate. The president was definitely more energetic and forceful on his views. Romney said he was for clean energy but he opposed extension of the wind energy credit - seemed he was totally back to the “drill baby drill” mantra. Obama said he helped small businesses and said they got cuts, but really never mention the Small Businesses Jobs Act that clarified cell phone deductions, added more start-up costs deductions and limited penalties.”

Biggest surprise: During the first debate, Romney stated licenses on federal lands were down in energy production, and in this debate, Obama kept saying it wasn’t true, because his administration did allow more licenses. Output was down 14 percent only because a moratorium was in place due to the BP oil spill, the worst in U.S. history - but in fact, drilling licences were up more than during the Clinton or Bush administrations.”

Who won the debate? Tie.

• Ron Nelson — Nevada

Owner of Pioneer Overhead Door based in Las Vegas

Employees: 5

Reaction to the debate: “The president really showed up tonight. He looked the governor in the eye and told him what he thought. The president showed Mr. Romney what a commander in chief looks like.”

Biggest surprise: “Mr. Romney doubling down in Libya.”

Who won the debate? Obama, handily.

Special thanks to Small Business Majority, National Small Business Association, National Federation of Independent Business, Wisconsin Small Business Development Center, Colorado Small Business Development Center and the Wake Tech Small Business Center for helping connect us with business owners.

Follow J.D. Harrison and On Small Business on Twitter.

J.D. Harrison covers startups, small business and entrepreneurship, with a focus on public policy, and he manages the Post's On Small Business blog.
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