“I want to be a small business president, a president who does make it easier to start and run a small business in this country, so it seems less like a gamble and more like an opportunity,” Clinton said at a roundtable discussion at a bike shop.
Clinton is spending the week in Iowa and New Hampshire focusing on small business, reminding voters of her humble start in life. She told participants about her father, Hugh Rodham, the owner of a small drapery business in their hometown of Park Ridge, Ill., just outside Chicago.
“He had a very small business, printing drapery fabrics and then went out and sold them. My mother, my brothers and I, and occasionally a few day laborers, would help out with the actual printing process,” she said. “That’s what put food on the table and gave us a solid middle-class home.”
Critics mocked Clinton, a millionaire who along with her husband earns hundreds of thousands of dollars for her speeches and millions of dollars for her books.
“During her last campaign, Clinton never once mentioned small business during one of her 19 debates and never put forth a small business plan,” said Jeff Bechdel, a spokesman for America Rising, an opposition research group. “Her sudden focus on these issues rings hollow for the millions of small business owners who are facing challenges from policies she supports.”
After the event, in a rare response to a question from a reporter about how she could relate to the middle class, Clinton downplayed her wealth.
“Obviously Bill and I have been blessed. And we’re very grateful for the opportunities we’ve had,” she said. “But we’ve never forgotten where we came from. . . . That means we are going to fight to make sure everyone has the same chances.”
Clinton told the four small business owners that her plan to assist them has four key elements: cutting red tape, expanding access to capital, simplifying taxes and providing tax relief for small business, and expanding access to new markets.
She spent most of the nearly hourlong event asking questions of the entrepreneurs, but she answered a few of her own, including one about the ground rules for a contentious trade agreement Congress is debating.
Clinton declined again to say whether she supports or opposes the 12-nation deal called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is backed by her former boss, President Barack Obama, but opposed by many liberal Democrats, including two presidential rivals, Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. She supported the proposed agreement when she was secretary of state.
Clinton said any deal must increase jobs and wages, be strong on health and environmental rules, be in the U.S.’s national security interests and address currency manipulation.
“I’ve said I want to judge the final agreement,” she said. “I’ve been for trade agreements. I’ve been against trade agreements.”
Outside the bike shop in downtown Cedar Rapids, three members of Americans for Democratic Action, which supports liberal candidates, held signs that asked Clinton to take a stand on the agreement.
“We’re really troubled that she’s been silent on it so far,” said Chris Schwartz, one of the group’s organizers. “And she’s playing politics with this issue that is critically important to Iowa jobs, worker safety and human rights around the world.”
Later Tuesday, she stopped at a local coffee shop, a hardware store and a gift shop in Independence, Iowa, where she spoke to the owners. At Hardware Hank, she spoke to the son of the owner, Terry Tekippe, whose family has owned the shop for more than five decades.
“We just did a small business thing, so I’m really focused on what we can do to make it even better,” Clinton told him. “Keep us in focus,” Tekippe responded.
On Monday, she spoke to about 60 people at the Mason City home of Dean Genth and Gary Swenson, major Democratic organizers in Iowa who were among the first gay couples married in the state. They supported Obama in 2008.
“I am going into this race with my eyes wide open about how hard it is to be the president. I have a little experience with that,” she said. “We need a president who has both the experience and understanding to deal with the complexity of the problems we face. I believe I can go into that office on the very first day and do what is required.”