During their first debate Wednesday night, President Barack Obama should hang his hat on his big economic initiatives during his first term, while GOP challenger Mitt Romney should focus on the president's inability to help the economy.
Twenty-nine percent of Democratic insiders say the president should focus on his initiatives from the last 3-1/2 years and make the case that big programs like Obamacare and the auto bailout are economic successes.
"His policies benefit all people by enabling them to earn a living wage and have enough money to be able to spend, pay taxes and propel the economy forward," one Democratic insider said.
About 39 percent of Republicans surveyed say Romney's main focus in the debate should be pointing that "Obama can't help the US economy."
"Obama does not have the knowledge or experience needed to turn the economy around - as has been shown over the last four years," a GOP insider said.
Another 21 percent of Democrats said the most important idea Obama should convey Wednesday is that Romney "will tilt his tax policy toward the rich, if elected."
Among Republicans, 23 percent said Romney should make the case that he has the "private sector experience needed to help the U.S. economy."
You're invited: Watch Wednesday's presidential debate at Patch's viewing party
Unlike a scientific poll of voters, which typically surveys hundreds of people, the Patch surveys take the pulse of some of Wisconsin's most influential Republicans and Democrats.
Patch sent questionnaires to 99 key Republican activists, elected officials, bloggers, and others who agreed to anonymously give their opinions in a series of surveys between now and the November election. Patch received completed surveys from 66 people — or 68 percent of those surveyed.
A total 42 Democratic insiders responded to the survey, a 66 percent response rate.
An opportunity for Romney?
Republican influencers surveyed by Patch overwhelmingly believe the debate could provide a boost to Romney, who is behind in most national and swing state polls. And a Patch survey released Tuesday showed that Wisconsin Republican insiders are less confident that Romney will win in Novemb than Democrats.
Related story: Democrats feeling more confident about November than GOP
However, 71 percent of the Republicans insiders surveyed agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that "Romney will use the debate to turn his campaign around."
"I think Mitt Romney is going to do very well," said one Republican. "He is a stronger debater than most people realize - and stronger than he was early on."
Added another GOP insider: "This could be a game-changer for Romney."
Comments show stark contrast
The comments of those surveyed show a stark contrast in perception toward the president and his first term and how each candidate should convey his message Wednesday night.
For example, to the question of what issue must their candidate focus on to win over the undecided in Wisconsin, a Democratic insider said the president should convey "how he has created 30 straight months of job growth," while a GOP influencer wrote the Republican should convey "43 straight months of unemployment over 8 percent with more people out of work now than when he took office."
Another example of this contrast is found in the next question of how each can galvanize their base in Wisconsin during the debate. A Romney supporter said he should focus on "his plan for the economy and how Obama has been missing in action since his doomed stimulus plan failed."
On the flip side, a Obama supporter said the president should focus on "the opportunity to create a better life for all people."
Obama's health care plan should also be a focus for each candidate, according survey participants. One Democrat said the president should portray his "understanding of health care," while a GOP insider said Romney should articulate that "Obamacare will be the final nail in the coffin of our nation's economy."
Election will determine economic direction
The responses also suggested the candidates focus on the country's economy if either is elected. A Democrat said the president should "emphasize the importance of Obama's re-election to the lower, middle and even upper-middle income homes. Mitt Romney does not - cannot - understand what it is like to live like a regular American. President Obama can, and he's got our backs."
In contrast, a Republican said Romney should focus on the fact that "he will get the economy back on track and create jobs for the 23 million struggling for work."
Insiders of both parties had dozens of debate suggestions for Obama and Romney.
Some of the points raised by Democrats included:
- "Obama needs to hammer Romney about being elitist and out of touch. I think that resonates with voters."
- "Romney will be tremendously challenged to show that he is personable and cares about ALL Americans."
- "Obama needs to push foreign policy and push what he has done for students, talk about the alternative energy of the future, and the Pell Grant expansion. Hit Romney on areas where he is weak and do it in a way where you let him make himself look bad."
- "Mitt seems to have a short fuse. Hit him on Bain Capital, his dismal jobs record in Massachusetts, and the federal money he received and wasted in the Salt Lake City Olympics."
Republican insiders also had plenty of debate suggestions for Romney, including:
- "It's time for Romney to be bold and go after the failures of Obama, as there are many."
- "Romney should focus on the lies Obama's campaign is telling the public on almost every issue."
- "Romney needs to show passion. His nature is to be reserved and measured, but he needs to show voters that he is excitable and passionate about the issues and his vision for the country."
- "Mitt Romney has to come out and show that he can really handle Obama. It's time the adults took over the White House again."
Patch will be conducting Red Wisconsin and Blue Wisconsin surveys between now and the election in hopes of determining the true sentiment of active members of both parties in the Badger State.
Participants in Patch's Red Wisconsin Survey are:
Jim Bender, president of School Choice Wisconsin, former chief of staff for Assembly Republican Leader Jeff Fitzgerald; Bill Berdan, first vice chairman, Wauwatosa Republicans; Keith Best, public relations chairman for Waukesha County Republicans; Bob Bradley, party activist; Charles Brey, field director for state Assembly candidate Tracy Herron; Tracy Brodd, Republican campaign worker; Paul Bucher, former Waukesha County district attorney and candidate for Wisconsin attorney general; Roy Catron, Tea Party activist; Andrew Cegielski, former Milwaukee County Board candidate; Sara Conrad, party activist; Bill Cosh, spokesman for the state Department of Natural Resources; Michael Crowley, Waukesha County supervisor; Jake Curtis, former state Assembly candidate; Lou D'Abbraccio, board member, Racine County Republican Party; Brian Dey, Racine County Tea Party member; Fred Dooley, conservative blogger; Steven Duckhorn, former Republican candidate for Milwaukee County sheriff; Bill Folk, chairman of Racine County Republican Party;Elisabeth Friesen, Republican activist; Jesse Garza, chairman, St. Croix County Republican Party; Mark Green, senior director of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, former U.S. ambassador to Tanzania and former congressman; Chris Haines, longtime campaign volunteer and former GOP campaign manager; Deb Hawley Jordahl, conservative strategist and consultant; John Hiller, co-chair of Scott Walker's transition team as governor; Sandra Hollander, member of Mitt Romney's “Juntos con Romney” leadership team; Ethan Hollenberger, former chairman of the College Republicans at Marquette University and staff member on several legislative campaigns; Mark Honadel, state reprsentative, 21st District; Marguerite Ingold, party activist; Valerie Johnson, former GOP fundraiser and staffer for various campaigns; Thomas J. Keeley, political consultant; Scott Kelly, communications director for former state Sen. Van Wanggaard; Cindy Kilkenny, conservative blogger; Rik Kluessendorf, attorney and former state Assembly candidate; Dan Knodl, state representative, 24th District; Tif Koehler, campaign volunteer and civic leader; Johnny Koremenos, regional field director for Tommy Thompson campaign; Gordon Lang, member of North Shore Republicans; Chris Larsen, trustee in Village of Sturtevant Trustee; Noelle Lorraine, field coordinator for Americans for Prosperity; John P. Macy, first vice chairman of Waukesha County Republican Party; Kathleen Madden, Waukesha County Clerk of Circuit Court; Ginny Marschman, party activist; Jessica McBride, conservative columnist; Bill McCoshen political consultant and; former cabinet secretary for Gov. Tommy Thompson; Joe Medina, party activist; Randy Melchert, field director for Mark Neumann's campaign; Gerald Mellone, Brookfield alderman; Ryan Morgan, conservative blogger; Dean Munday, conservative blogger; Mark Neumann, U.S. Senate candidate and former congressman; Kelly O'Brien, founder of Shorewood Citizens for Responsible Government; Eric Wm. Olsen, conservative activist; Nick Oliver, state Assembly candidate, 22nd District; Victoria Ostry, treasurer of the Wisconsin Federation of Republican Women.; Rick Owen, Brookfield alderman; Monnine Parnitzke, party activist; Steve Ponto, mayor of Brookfield; Don Pridemore, state representative, 99th District; Paris Procopis, grassroots activist; Jim Pugh, director of public relations and issue management for Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce; Denise Rate, Tea Party member; Bob Reddin, Brookfield alderman and executive director, Jobs First Coalition; Pam Reeves, treasurer, Waukesha County Republicans; Joe Rice, former county supervisor and member of North Shore Republicans Executive Committee; Nate Ristow, candidate for 13th District State Assembly; Brandon Rosner, Wisconsin Republican consultant; Bill Savage, aide to state Rep. Don Pridemore and officer of Menomonee Falls Taxpayers Association; Jim Schaefer, Muskego-Norway School Board president; Josh Schimek, conservative blogger; JB Schmidt, conservative blogger; Christian Schneider, senior fellow at Wisconsin Policy Research Institute and former policy analyst for Wisconsin State Legislature; Ashley Schultz, state director of the Recall Action Fund; Nick Schweitzer, Libertarian pundit and blogger; Tim Schwister, former State Assembly candidate; Dan Sebring, vice chairman, Milwaukee County Republicans and candidate for 4th Congressional District; Cathy Stepp, Wisconsin Natural Resources secretary and former state senator; Jeff Stone, state representative, 82nd District; Jonathan Strasburg, attorney; Dave Swarthout, board member, 1st Congressional District Republicans; Charles Sykes, conservative talk show host for WTMJ Radio; Steve Taylor, Milwaukee County supervisor; Jenny Toftness, executive director of the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee; Greg Torres, Jefferson County supervisor; Jim Villa, former chief of staff to County Executive Scott Walker and Alberta Darling; current CEO of Commercial Association of REALTORS® Wisconsin; Robin Vos, state representative; 63rd District; Dan Vrakas, Waukesha County Executive; Yash Wadhwa, former State Assembly candidate; Jeff Wagner, conservative talk show host, WTMJ Radio; Tom Weatherston, candidate for 62nd Assembly District and Village of Caledonia trustee; Steve Welcenbach, head of the Menomonee Falls Taxpayers Association and Tea Party activist; Todd Welch, Wisconsin state coordinator at Campaign for Liberty; James Wigderson, conservative blogger and columnist for Waukesha Freeman; Eddie Willing, conservative columnist in Racine County and executive director of FoundersIntent.org; Chris Wright, Sturtevant village trustee and former candidate for State Assembly; Phil Ziegler, CEO of InPro Inc. and party activist.
Patch's Blue Wisconsin Survey participants are:
Kelley Albrecht, candidate for 63rd State Assembly District; Mandela Barnes, candidate for 11th State Assembly District; Ron Biendseil, vice chair for membership, Dane County Democratic Party; Tammy Bockhorst, membership secretary/membership chair, Milwaukee County Democratic Party; Randy Bryce, candidate for 62nd State Assembly District; Brian Carlson, liberal blogger; Sachin Chheda, chair, Milwaukee County Democratic Party; Jeff Christensen, chair, 5th Congressional District Democrats; Mark Conforti, chief negotiator for the Fox Point-Bayside Teachers Association; Rick Congdon, former judge and former chair, Democratic Party of Waukesha County; Deb Dassow, progressive and labor activist, and semi-retired educator; Victor Drover, liberal blogger; Dale Dulberger, party activist; Perry Duman, candidate for the 60th State Assembly District; Brett Eckstein, Democratic attorney; Waring R. Fincke, vice chair, Washington County Democratic Party; Stephanie Findley, chair, 4th Congressional District Democrats; Kelly Gallaher, founding member, Community for Change; Heather Geyer, liberal columnist; Ginny Goode, Grassroots North Shore; Darcy Gustavsson, party activist; Kristin Hansen, neighborhood team leader, Obama for America and co-host, Drinking Liberally Waukesha; Robert Hansen, co-chair of Progressive Democrats of America in Milwaukee County; John Heckenlively, secretary, 1st Congressional District Democrats; Kelly Herda, treasurer, Democratic Party of Wisconsin Women's Caucus and political consultant; Robert Heule, Region 5 Chair, Democratic Party of Milwaukee County; Peter Knudsen, legislative aide and longtime Democratic staffer; Marga Krumins, candidate for 97th State Assembly District and associate chair Democratic Party of Wisconsin Women’s Caucus; Bill Kurtz, candidate for 21st Assembly District; John Lehman, state senator, 21st District; Matthew Lowe, youth outreach director, Waukesha County Democratic Party; Fran Martin, election observer for the Democratic Party and appeared in Wangaard recall ads; Tom Michalski, Oak Creek alderman; Bridget Moen, chair, Democratic Party of Ozaukee County; Meg Moen, treasure, Democratic Party of Ozaukee County; Rick Moze, party activist; Lisa Mux liberal blogger, and co-founder and co-host of Drinking Liberally Waukesha; Thad Nation, political consultant and former aide to Gov. Jim Doyle; Larry Nelson, former Waukesha mayor, current County Board supervisor and delegate to Democratic National Convention; Jason Patzfahl, liberal blogger and founding member of the Progressive 28th Political Action Committee; Jeffrey Perzan , attorney and party activist; Colin Plese, Shorewood School Board member; John Pokrandt, candidate for 13th State Assembly District; Steven Potter, communications aide, state Democratic Party; Jason Rae, Democratic National Committee member; Aaron Robertson, party activist; Chris Rockwood, candidate for 14th State Assembly District; Kristopher Rowe, party activist; Keith Schmitz, member, State Democratic Platform Committee and founding member, Grassroots North Shore; Richard Schwalb, party activist; Erin Sievert, chairwoman, Jefferson County Democrats; Kathleen Slamka, party activist; Eilene Stevens, party activist; Mike Tate, chair , Democratic Party of Wisconsin; Melissa Ugland, business owner and party activist; Sarah Wagner, community activist for Wisconsin Jobs Now; Jamie Wall, candidate for 8th Congressional District; Jim Ward, candidate, 28th State Senate District; Jane Witt, chair of Racine County Democrats; and Graeme Zielinski, communications director, Wisconsin Democratic Party.