By David Lightman

It is everything Republicans want to tout in the American economy, and so much of what Democrats fear.

It's Uber.

The nation is engaged in an evolving debate about the role of app-based companies that are upending age-old ways of doing business. How deeply should government get involved? How should workers be treated? Are 20th-century laws designed to protect employees antiquated in this new "sharing economy"?

To Republicans, the boom in app-based services is welcome, unbridled free-market competition, a long-overdue way for hardworking individuals to prosper without government holding them back.

Driving the point, Jeb Bush plans to use Uber, the booming ride-on-request service, this week when he visits San Francisco to talk about technology issues. He's in tune with his party; the Republican National Committee is circulating a petition where people can show their support for Uber.

To Democrats, consumers are navigating a marketplace without important government protections for riders and workers, and everyone except the big moneymakers stands to be hurt.

In an economic speech Monday, Hillary Clinton discussed the "sharing" economy, citing how many people earn money designing websites, selling their own products or "even driving their own car."

While she called the innovations exciting, Clinton vowed, "I will crack down on bosses who exploit employees by misclassifying them as contractors or even steal their wages."

The fight is on.

"This is a classic big government versus small government debate," said Darrell West, vice president and director of governance studies at Washington's Brookings Institution, a research group.

In the recent past, the two major parties have fought over how to deal with e-commerce, "soccer moms," the underclass or the "forgotten" white middle-class male.

Now, the sharing economy debate puts twists on some traditional themes. One is the government-business relationship. Republicans have long railed against difficult-to-fathom government regulations, rules they say stifle innovation and expansion.

Taxis and their drivers have long been subject to strict regulation. Throughout the nation, governments have been trying to hold Uber and similar services to tough standards, and often succeed. To Republicans, those standards often go too far.

"Across the country, taxi unions and liberal government bureaucrats are setting up roadblocks, issuing strangling regulations and implementing unnecessary red tape to block Uber from doing business in their cities," says the Republican Party petition.

Democrats see hypocrisy. Bush, said party spokeswoman Holly Shulman, is happy to support the free market only when it suits his philosophy. "Here's a quick update for Gov. Bush: Obamacare has been huge for folks working in the innovation and sharing economy. Bush wants to repeal it," she said.

The fate of employees is the other big debate. Clinton is trying to satisfy two important traditionally Democratic constituencies: Labor unions and liberals.

Since most drivers are considered independent contractors, "sharing economy" companies often do not provide certain benefits.

New economy gurus argue that 20th-century wage-and-hour laws no longer apply to individuals who want to be their own bosses and want to work at their own pace. Uber and some ride providers are now in a legal dispute over whether drivers are employees.

Clinton wants them protected. "Fair pay and fair scheduling, paid family leave and earned sick days, child care are essential to our competitiveness and growth," she said Monday, without naming a specific company, "and we can do this in a way that doesn't impose unfair burdens on business."

Uber had no comment on her remarks.

At presidential forums, Republican presidential candidates have picked up the beat. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas in February compared himself to Uber, saying he wanted to "bring a disruptive app to politics."

After Clinton's speech Monday, Republicans quickly pounced.

"@HillaryClinton's ideas about Uber and Lyft are out of touch. We need more innovation, not less," tweeted Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Republicans gleefully note that David Plouffe, former campaign manager and White House adviser to President Barack Obama, is a top Uber executive.

Clinton herself may understand that the shared economy is highly popular _ Tuesday, Jake Sullivan, Clinton's senior policy adviser, told a Christian Science Monitor breakfast she wasn't simply bashing the startups.

What she really wants, and is going to get, is to "start a very serious conversation about this important and growing part of our economy," he said.

(Anita Kumar contributed to this report.)