The presidential race of 2016 has been nothing if not grand political theater, with animated town halls, noisy debates, and an attendant media circus. But now that the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primaries are upon us, the candidates are facing their first serious electoral challenge.

Certainly the presidential hopefuls have expended a lot of energy on social issues, but they've also laid out plans on numerous topics critical to small-business owners, primarily in the areas of taxes, health care, wages, and immigration. And as the 15 candidates crisscross the early primary states hoping to reel in voters, it's important to know where they stand on issues important to business. Scroll down to look at the entire field, or click on the icons to jump to a specific candidate.

The former first lady, two-term senator from New York, and secretary of state has a big-time resume, but she also bills herself as the small-business candidate. She'd like to cut taxes for small- business owners, increase their access to capital, and reduce regulations that prevent them from starting up.

Clinton has also proposed incentives including a tax break for smaller businesses that share profits with employees. The plan would phase out after two years, however. And she's used social media to connect with entrepreneurs -- for example, giving this New Hampshire design company a voice:

Clinton advocates updating immigration laws and upholding President Obama's executive action from late 2014 that would provide millions of undocumented immigrants with a path to citizenship.

She'd also provide greater protections for contract workers in the "gig" economy, while supporting the innovations of companies such as Airbnb and Uber, which have built that new sector. Back to top

The former mayor of Baltimore and a two-term governor of Maryland, O'Malley supports immigration reform, is pro-union, and has supported tax increases as well as increases to the minimum wage in his state. He's said he'd take on Wall Street by breaking up the big banks and reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act, the Depression-era law that separated the speculative activities of banks from their consumer depository functions. Back to top

Here's the senator explaining his plan during a recent town hall, hosted by CNN:

Sanders also would make changes to the progressive tax system, increasing taxes to 50 percent or more on the highest earners. He would increase capital gains taxes and close loopholes for the rich. And he would charge Wall Street bankers a tax on speculation, the proceeds of which would make college tuition free.  Back to top

Since launching his campaign, the former Florida governor has said his goal is to return the U.S. economic growth rate to at least 4 percent, primarily through a tax overhaul. Bush would reduce the number of income tax brackets from seven to just three, with a top tax rate of 28 percent, as opposed to its current rate of 39.6 percent.

Bush is pro-immigration reform and he says he'd make cuts to Medicare and Social Security benefits, raising the retirement age to 70. He favors creating simplified 401(k) plans for small businesses, and favors pooling small businesses together for retirement accounts. Back to top

The former neurosurgeon favors a flat tax that resembles a system of biblical tithing. He has called for abolishing the Internal Revenue Service and would discontinue the Affordable Care Act. He wants to increase the eligibility age for Medicare to 70, and would set up a system of individual health-savings accounts to help people pay for medical care. Back to top

The New Jersey governor favors a three-tier income tax plan that tops out at 28 percent. He'd rein in regulations by implementing a "regulatory zero" rule, whereby each new business regulation would be paired with a regulation that is phased out. He would increase U.S. energy efficiency by building more infrastructure, such as the Keystone Pipeline. And Christie would in some instances eliminate payroll taxes to encourage businesses to hire more new employees. Back to top

The Texas senator is an ardent libertarian who believes in nearly unfettered free enterprise. Cruz would eliminate the current seven tax brackets and create a 10 percent flat tax for individual filers, as well as a 16 percent corporate rate, down from the current top rate of 35 percent. He also would eliminate the payroll tax and encourage the repatriation of overseas corporate profits by applying a low, one-time tax. (Numerous U.S. companies with overseas headquarters have been stockpiling cash abroad to avoid taxes.)

Here's Cruz explaining his tax plan, from an October GOP debate hosted by CNBC:

Cruz has adamantly opposed the Export-Import Bank, a prop to U.S. exporters that provides financing for overseas orders, and was part of a group of senators that shut it down for six months last summer. He recently voted with 51 senators on a bill to gut the Affordable Care Act, the first such bill to pass in the upper chamber. Back to top

The former Hewlett-Packard chief executive has made much of her business credentials, although her time at HP was marred by controversy, including massive layoffs and a troubled merger with Compaq. Fiorina has said she'd reduce the 70,000-page tax code to just three pages. She favors something called zero-based budgeting, where essentially the annual budget would be built from zero every year, with all line items requiring validation, rather than starting with the funding they received the prior year.

Throughout her campaign, Fiorina has spoken about the need to boost the middle class by strengthening small businesses, as she did here during a debate hosted by the Fox Business Network in January:

Fiorina has said she favors overturning the Affordable Care Act, allowing states to manage high-risk pools for coverage, and otherwise handing health care over to the free market. Back to top

The former Virginia governor launched his campaign in July of 2015, but has been fairly absent from the campaign field and has not appeared in any of the Republican debates to detail his positions. According to his website, in addition to creating a flat tax, he would cut the corporate tax rate to 15 percent and eliminate the estate tax. He'd end so-called double-taxation of corporations, whereby company owners and their corporations are taxed separately, and he'd allow companies that operate overseas to repatriate profits, tax-free.  Back to top

Unlike other Republican candidates, the former Arkansas governor favors a Fair Tax, which charges for consumption. Those making poverty-level wages, however, would be exempt. Unlike his Republican colleagues, he would strengthen both Medicare and Social Security. Back to top

Although the Ohio governor says he opposes the Affordable Care Act and would repeal it, he is one of the few Republican governors who approved expanding Medicare in his home state to help pay for the new health care program when it began in 2012.

Kasich is probably the only Republican candidate who acknowledges climate change, though he does not think the Environmental Protection Agency should regulate emissions. He favors immigration reform and providing undocumented immigrants with a path to citizenship. Back to top

The Kentucky senator would "blow up the tax code," he says, and start over with a 14.5 percent flat tax for both businesses and individuals. He'd also eliminate the payroll tax. Like other Republicans, he'd overturn the ACA, returning the health insurance system to the free market. He'd also eliminate the IRS, which he refers to as a "rogue agency." Here's Paul taking a chain saw to the tax code in a campaign video, to Jimi Hendrix's electric guitar version of "The Star Spangled Banner":

Paul also proposes a balanced budget amendment. Back to top

The Florida senator would cut the top-end tax rate for small- business owners to 25 percent, from the current 39.6 percent, and he'd eliminate capital gains taxes. He'd also repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with a system of tax credits tied to individual health-savings accounts.

Rubio would roll back the Dodd-Frank banking act, which has imposed tighter regulations on the large Wall Street banks in the wake of the recession, as part of a push to decrease or eliminate government restrictions on businesses. He'd push for a National Regulatory Budget Act, which would establish a "budget" restricting new federal regulations that affect business owners. Rubio also says he'd protect the on-demand economy, as represented by Airbnb, Uber, and other tech innovators, and resist any attempts to regulate it.

In recent years, the senator has shifted from advocating comprehensive immigration reform to a stance that puts border security first, though with the possibility of a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants after 10 to 12 years. Back to top

To spur manufacturing, the former Pennsylvania senator would give factory owners a 0 percent corporate tax rate in the first year of his plan, edging up to 20 percent over three years.

Santorum similarly would cut the top corporate tax for all businesses to 20 percent, which would mirror his plan for a 20 percent personal flat tax. He would cap the tax on repatriated profits at 10 percent, and would eliminate the estate tax.

Additionally, he would increase the minimum wage by $0.50 an hour annually for three years. He favors passing a balanced budget amendment, as well as giving Congress audit authority over the Federal Reserve. Back to top

Published on: Jan 28, 2016