Democratic Debate: Where the Candidates Stand on Small Business Issues

Date: October 16, 2015

The first Democratic debate saw five candidates talk about a range of issues, many of which will be central for small business owners heading into the 2016 election.

The spotlight shined on Hillary Clinton in what was the most-watched Democratic primary debate in history, with 15.3 million people tuning in Oct. 13. To many, she was the night’s clear winner and came across so well-versed in the debate game that it “appeared as though she had been preparing for Tuesday night since her last failed White House bid,” CNN reported.

But so, too, did the spotlight shine on small business.

The debate’s five contenders addressed many major sticking points for owners: healthcare, minimum wage, paid leave and more. A recap of what candidates said on those and other pressing issues is below.

Looking for a chance to have presidential hopefuls hear your voice? Through NFIB’s 2016 Presidential TeleForum, members will have access to participate in discussions with leading candidates to go over the major issues.

While there is naturally some debate about who actually won the debate, ultimately, Clinton and Bernie Sanders retained their spots as leading candidates.

The former secretary of state and first lady deftly hit back at recurring critiques—from her vote to go into Iraq as senator to her use of a private server as secretary of state—that have dogged her campaign leading up to Tuesday’s debate. Meanwhile, Vermont Sen. Sanders maintained the same campaign fervor when railing against issues of racial and economic inequality and climate change.

For as much policy that drove the debate, one of the night’s highlights strangely brought the two frontrunners together when Clinton’s private server came up. Before acknowledging that it may “not be great politics,” Sanders refused to pile on Clinton over the issue: “I think the secretary is right, and that is that the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails.”

Find out more about how NFIB is fighting for small business owners.

Here’s more on what the candidates said about key small business issues:


  • Clinton supports expanding Obamacare, giving “opportunity for immigrants to be able to buy into the exchanges under the Affordable Care Act.”

  • Sanders: “We should not be the only major country on Earth that does not guarantee healthcare to all of our people as a right of citizenship and we should not be the only major country that does not provide medical and … family and parental leave to all of our families.”


  • Lincoln Chafee touted his mayoral experience with taxes: “I brought labor peace to my city and kept taxes down.”

  • Meanwhile, Clinton said she had “specific recommendations about how we’re going to close those loopholes, make it clear that the wealthy will have to pay their fair share, and have a series of tax cuts for middle-class families.”

Small Business/Economy

  • Jim Webb called for a “national political strategy for our economy … and, by the way, for how you run and manage the most complex bureaucracy in the world, which is the federal government.”

  • Clinton: “When I think about capitalism, I think about all the small businesses that were started because we have the opportunity and the freedom in our country for people to do that and to make a good living for themselves and their families.”

  • Martin O’Malley: “What we need is a green energy revolution. We need to move America to a 100 percent clean electric grid by 2050 and create 5 million jobs along the way.”

Minimum wage

  • Candidates O’Malley, Clinton and Sanders all expressed strong support for raising the minimum wage.

  • Sanders: “In my view what we need to do is create millions of jobs by rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure—raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.”

  • Clinton: “At the center of my campaign is how we’re going to raise wages. Yes, of course, raise the minimum wage, but we have to do so much more, including finding ways so that companies share profits with the workers who helped to make them.”

Paid Leave

  • O’Malley, Clinton and Sanders also vouched for implementing paid medical and family leave. 

  • O’Malley: “My wife, Katie, is here with our four kids. And, man, that was a juggle when we had little kids and keeping jobs and moving forward. We would be a stronger nation economically if we had paid family leave.”

  • Sanders: “You see every other major country saying to moms that, when you have a baby, we’re not gonna separate you from your newborn baby, because we are going to have medical and family paid leave, like every other country on Earth.”

  • Clinton: “I believe in equal pay for equal work for women, but I also believe it’s about time we had paid family leave for American families and join the rest of the world.”

RELATED: Small Business Snubbed in First GOP Debate


*Note: This news coverage does not equate to an endorsement of any candidate by NFIB.

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