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DNC: Where Was the Small Business Love?

Entrepreneurship had a much quieter role in Charlotte, N.C., this week than at the RNC in Tampa.
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After an "up with entrepreneurs" week at the Republican National Convention, small business owners watching the Democratic version this week could be forgiven for feeling a little unloved.

It seemed at times that almost every GOP speaker in Tampa, Florida, had an immigrant ancestor who arrived in the U.S. penniless, then started a small business and became wealthy as a result. At the DNC in Charlotte, North Carolina, by contrast, such messaging was both less overt and less frequent.

Small business wasn't left waiting completely in the wings, of course.

Small Business Administration head Karen Mills told convention audiences Wednesday that half of all Americans work for or own small businesses, which account for two thirds of all new jobs. "Today, small business owners are having very different conversations than they were three-and-a-half years ago. Today, they're talking about strategies to fill larger orders, blueprints for bigger factories, and plans to hire more workers," Mills said.

And Senate Democratic hopeful Elizabeth Warren also highlighted her conversations with small business owners across Massachusetts. "Not one of them--not one--made big bucks from the risky Wall Street bets that brought down our economy," she said.

Small Business vs. Wall Street

Yet when many Democratic speakers did mention entrepreneurs, it was as a way to distinguish between small firms and their big corporate counterparts. "I don't believe that rolling back regulations on Wall Street will help the small businesswoman expand," President Obama said in his Convention acceptance speech Thursday.

Part of the issue, says Jim Kessler, senior vice president of policy for the nonpartisan think tank Third Way, is that the Democrats have been very critical of big businesses, like the banks, which Democrats say were responsible for the financial crisis and recession. Democratic politicians must walk a thin line, burnishing some businesses while bashing others.

"There is a something of a communications disconnect going on there," Kessler says.

By contrast, the GOP party is the party of big business, and its focus on business is somewhat aspirational--since every small business owner dreams of becoming big one day, experts say.

Republicans also hope to highlight Romney's credentials as a businessman and the founder of private equity firm Bain Capital, suggesting that his management skills equip him to be the next Commander in Chief.

"Republicans have someone running on a business agenda with a business background [that they think] is the major qualification to become president," says Jeffrey Sohl, director of the Center for Venture Research at the University of New Hampshire.

Entrepreneurs for Romney

By all accounts Romney enjoys broad support from small business owners.  Entrepreneurs favor Mitt Romney over President Obama 61% to 26%, according to a recent Washington Post and Manta poll of 2,000 small businesses.

"Republicans talk about small business, they understand what it is, and what is going to save the economy and make it work," says Bill Dunkelberg, chief economist of the National Federation of Independent Business, a Republican-leaning business lobbying group.

Yet Scott Case, chief executive of Startup America, disagrees. Along with 100 entrepreneurs from around the country who belong to the start-up network, he attended both the DNC and RNC, hosting small business expos and panels on topics like small business job creation, support of start-ups, and small business leadership by women.

Case says both parties care deeply about entrepreneurship. There's no "less interest among the Democrats around being the party for business and focusing on economic growth," he says.

IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Sep 7, 2012

JEREMY QUITTNER | Staff Writer | Staff Writer, Inc. and Inc.com

Jeremy Quittner is a staff writer for Inc. magazine and Inc.com. He previously covered technology for American Banker and entrepreneurship for BusinessWeek.




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