Swing state small business owners give final debate victory to Obama

One week ago, our panel of swing state small business owners gave the slight edge in the town hall debate to President Obama, forcing a split after Mitt Romney won convincingly in the first debate earlier this month.

So it all came down to Tuesday — and for the second time in less than a week, the president emerged with a split-decision victory.

Five respondents said the president came out ahead, one called it a draw and one gave the victory to Romney. Most of respondents thought the Republican candidate demonstrated that he could effectively serve as commander in chief, but by and large, they said the president showed he had far more experience handling foreign affairs and promoting the country’s interests abroad.

Related: The complete small business guide to the presidential election

Meanwhile, though their final debate focused on matters of foreign policy, both presidential contenders found ways to connect their answers to the most pressing issue for voters in this election — the ailing economy. The candidates spent several minutes in the middle of the debate disputing specifically their starkly different views on how to bolster entrepreneurs and small businesses.

Heading into the night, our panel was split right down the middle in terms of their views on the election. Two business owners were firmly in the Obama camp and two were firmly in the Romney camp, one was leaning Obama and one was leaning Romney, and one of them was undecided. By the time the candidates shook hands and exited the stage, only one respondent had shifted, moving from “leaning” Romney to “firmly” Romney.

The lone undecided panelist did note afterward that (s)he was now undecided “more than ever.”

• Scott Graber — Colorado

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

Employees: 32

Reaction to the debate: “After watching all three debates, the questions for me is this: Do I believe that Obama inherited such a mess that he hasn’t quite been able to dig the nation out just yet, and if given four more years, he will? Or, do I believe that four years is a long enough to have made significant advances regardless of what he inherited? I don’t believe Obama’s policies and strategy for our nation has delivered the change he was elected to bring. But in a debate, I like aggressive, so I give Obama the nod in this one. Overall though, I don’t believe the majority of the nation wants to see a president on the attack this late in the game. I think Romney will fare well in the days to come.”

Biggest surprise: “Obama overly attacking, and Romney overly agreeable.”

Who won the debate? Obama, narrowly.

• Jessica Hadler Baines — Florida

President of American Business Group Business Brokers in Orlando

Employees: 1

Reaction to the debate: “This missed the spirit of a traditional debate. I believe the town hall setting from the previous debate served both candidates well. Tonight’s debate concluded with both sides trying to hash out domestic issues, never fully addressing or resolving foreign matters. One, two, three, four. . . listing out numbers of plans will not cut it, nor will the stats determine this race. Americans will not listen to numbers alone. I feel both candidates were tired, as was I, with the last year’s worth of campaigning.”

Biggest surprise: “Civility, and too much off it. The debate was almost too civil — a debate regarding such a high office should rigorously involve both candidates. We, as Americans, are not looking for a blood bath, far from it — but we do seek a truly fruitful debate. Vigorous discord, is what was needed, and that did not occur this evening. The American public should see their candidates debate and not return to just familiar topics. This evening’s debate finished with a return to domestic concerns, which was not in the spirit of tonight’s agenda on foreign issues.”

Who won the debate? Tie

• Olalah Njenga — North Carolina

CEO of YellowWood Group, LLC in Raleigh

Employees: 3

Reaction to the debate: “Obama’s verbal jabs suggesting that Romney’s position on foreign policy is nearly two decades old was well-timed and kept the debate lively. It clearly set the tone for the rest of the foreign policy dialog. Obama illuminated the distinct differences between his perspectives on foreign policy and Romney’s. Romney’s retorts were wobbly at best under the weight of Obama’s clearly made points.”

Biggest surprise: “Obama was well-prepared for this debate. Frankly, Obama’s confidence was assuring, whereas Romney’s comments were sometimes unsettling. I was surprised that several of Romney’s comments began with the words ‘I agree with the President.’ At times, Romney seemed to struggle in finding something credible to refute.”

Who won the debate? Obama, handily

• Randall Bradley — Iowa

Owner of Kadina Corporation in Ottumwa

Employees: 75

Reaction to the debate: “Both men did much of what they probably wanted. Obama mostly needed to play defense in this debate and he did it well. He was able to minimize debate on the lack of security in Libya and his administration misleading the American public thereafter. He also avoided taking as hard a hit as he might have on the decline of our relationship with Israel, except for when Romney pointed out Democratic senators had written Obama a letter asking him to repair that relationship. Romney needed to show that he has the ‘gravitas’ to conduct foreign policy. He demonstrated the principles and convictions necessary for a good and strong foreign policy. I had the debate scored as a tie until the end, when Romney closed with a very effective critique of this last four years under Obama, reminding people very clearly why they should vote for him.”

Biggest surprise: “No surprises tonight.”

Who won the debate? Romney, narrowly.

• Ron Nelson — Nevada

Owner of Pioneer Overhead Door based in Las Vegas

Employees: 5

Reaction to the debate: “The president showed leadership and clarity about what he has done and what he will do. Mr. Romney repeated the president’s words time and again, and he was once again rude both to the president and the moderator. The president was clear and concise while Mr. Romney tried to filibuster. ”

Biggest surprise: “Mr. Romney using quote from Ahmadinejad on America’s weakness.”

Who won the debate? Obama, handily

• Christopher Hytry Derrington - Wisconsin

CEO of Hyder Industries in Two Rivers

Employees: 37

Reaction to the debate: “ Good exchange of views by both candidates. Less of campaign rhetoric and more focus on answering the questions, and less personal attacks. This debate was Romney’s to lose and he handled himself well. This debate did not change the dynamics of the presidential race.”

Biggest surprise: “China and surrounding counties may be heading to eventual war over island territory and oil fields. If Japan is attacked, we will be drawn into the conflict. Why wasn’t this discussed?”

Who won the debate? Obama, 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: “An incumbent president may appear to have an advantage going into a debate on foreign policy because he has more experience in dealing with those issues, but it was abundantly clear that Governor Romney was out of his league. He literally seemed uncomfortable like he was fighting to stay alive, whereas President Obama spoke from his foreign policy experience. Many of Romney’s references were dated and he often steered back to domestic policy when needed.”

Biggest surprise: “How visually uncomfortable Romney seemed, even smirking, sweating and flustered.”

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.

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