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Which Candidate Would Best Help Small Business?

Sandra Hughes is a CBS News correspondent based in Los Angeles.
There couldn't be a more critical time to be a small business owner. So many small businesses rely on loans – for everything from payroll to buying needed equipment – that when credit dried up these past few weeks they started facing critical decisions on how to keep their businesses going. According to the National Small Business Association, which has recently polled its members about the economic crisis, nationwide 28,000 fewer small business loans have been approved this year. Sixty-seven percent of small business owners surveyed recently said they've been impacted by the credit crunch.

We interviewed two Southern California business owners who told us in addition to this recent crisis, they've been troubled for years over increasing healthcare premiums and what they feel are excessive taxes and regulations. What we also learned from our interviews is that while politicians talk a lot about the small businessman and woman, the small business owner doesn't feel like anyone in Washington is listening to their needs.

Mike O'Toole owns the Gondola Getaway in Long Beach, Calif. The idea to take people on gondola rides through the canals of his hometown came to him in business school. And he's been making it work for 27 years. But O'Toole says: "if we're the engine that drives the country (as so many politicians like to say) we need a new mechanic." Why? He told us he's drowning in regulations and taxes. There is no way he could afford to provide healthcare for all his employees, many of whom are part-time; because it would put him out of business.

Mark Murai is a third-generation strawberry grower who also owns processing plants. His top concern is paying for healthcare for his 30 employees whom he considers like family. But every month when the premium bills come in he worries how long he can continue. He says "too many small businesses are holding on by their fingernails, just getting by." Murai would love to sit down with both presidential candidates and tell him what small businesses need to prosper. But in the meantime, he's worried about how many small businesses will have to close while the credit crisis gets sorted out. Due to that, he's reluctantly in favor of the government bailout to get money moving to small business again.

What would the candidates do to help these two business owners? We'll have that story tonight on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric.