Post Debate Focus Group Signals Who They Believe Won The GOP Primary Debate

The day after the network hosted the first Republican Party presidential primary debate, Fox News held a focus group of conservative Wisconsin voters to gauge who the members thought had the strongest performance.

Of the candidates, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis ended up with more of the focus group’s vote for who came off as the most “viable alternative” to frontrunner Donald Trump.

Bill Hemmer and Dana Perino spoke to a group of eight voters from Wisconsin about their thoughts on how the various candidates performed during the debate.

While some of the participants felt their pre-debate preferences strengthened over the course of the evening, a few signaled that their views had shifted.

Steven, a 61-year-old engineer whose top issue is immigration, was leaning toward pharmaceutical executive Vivek Ramaswamy going into the debate, but said that Ramaswamy’s performance turned him off.

“Honestly, I think Vivek is on a little bit of thin ice, even with me,” he said. “At the onset, I’m looking for someone that can win the general, and I think he might have alienated a few people last night — just his abrasiveness.”

Tracy, a 46-year-old executive whose top issues were local issues, was leaning DeSantis headed into the debate and said that the 44-year-old governor’s performance “solidified” him as the leading candidate in her mind. “Thank goodness that the election isn’t tomorrow,” she said when noting that there was still time for DeSantis to make up ground on former President Donald Trump, who’s consistently held a commanding lead in the polls.

Tracy added that she was also impressed by former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley’s stance on abortion.

Kevin, a 21-year-old student whose top issue was the economy, was also leaning DeSantis headed into the debate and said he is still leaning toward DeSantis after the debate and that he liked how DeSantis was “touting his background and what he’s accomplished in Florida.”

“Yesterday, I kind of saw a lot of people talking about what they will do once they get into office,” he continued. “DeSantis said, ‘I’ve done it in Florida, and I’ll do it on a national level.’ So to me, someone who has the accomplishments there. It really resonates with me.”

Kevin said that he also liked Ramaswamy, but thought he was too nasty with the other candidates and “alienated” some voters that would be needed to win the general election.

Cathy, an 80-year-old pro-Trump retiree whose top issue is immigration, said that the debate was the “most chaotic debate” that she’s ever seen and she thought Ramaswamy was perhaps too “aggressive.” She said that she liked DeSantis and that she wanted to see former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson drop out of the race. “But I do like DeSantis, and of course, I do like Trump,” she said.

Hemmer asked Cathy if she thought “anyone last night showed the ability to take on Trump, or close the gap that we have seen in the polls?”

“DeSantis, absolutely. I do,” she stated. “And you know, I’m not looking for a perfect candidate, but a former boss had always taught me, you can’t please everyone all the time, but you want to do the best for the most, and that is my bottom line. As I said yesterday, to have universal appeal to Republicans, Independents, undecided and disenchanted Dems. But I also want to know who is going to make this country the best it can be.”

Gerard, a 69-year-old executive who is most concerned about public safety, said that he was leaning most toward Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) headed into the debate and that he remains unchanged after the debate.

“I still feel the same way that the top five can take on President Biden and I think they can beat him. I was leaning toward Tim Scott. I still feel the same way. I thought he was the most statesman-like on the stage,” he said. “I don’t like the bickering. I don’t think the American voters care too much for the bickering either. They all violated in some way Ronald Reagan’s admonition not to speak ill of other Republicans. But the voters are looking for someone who has a solid track record of accomplishment and can speak to their needs.”

Gerard said that the candidates who were bickering the most had achieved the least amount and were therefore to slinging insults at each other. “There was a lot of shallowness from some of the candidates about how they would approach different problems,” he said. “And so I would say there are probably three candidates, the two minor governors, and Vivek that probably would not make it onto the national stage.”

He said that the two governors he was referring to were Asa Hutchinson and North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum.

Denise, a retired 65-year-old whose top issue was immigration, was leaning DeSantis headed into the debate and said that she is still for DeSantis after the debate.

“And one of the issues that he brought up doesn’t seem like a big issue, but he talked about bringing civics back into education. If we’re going to get our country back, people have to understand what the Bill of Rights provides us, what the Constitution provides us,” she said. “Then you won’t be duped into voting for somebody that promises you something like, ‘I’ll forgive all your student loans,’ because you’ll know that that branch of government can’t do that.”

Chris, a 53-year-old restaurant owner whose top issue was the economy, said he was leaning toward DeSantis headed into the debate and that he left “feeling stronger” about DeSantis after the debate.

“We need to present a candidate that is talking about the future, is talking about the issues that people want to know their policy position, not only what their policy position is, but how they’re going to do it and what they’re going to get done,” he said. “I think Governor DeSantis did that really, really well. You know, I anticipated that he’d be the butt of a lot of attacks, that really didn’t happen. So I think that allowed him to really kind of expand on his policy ideas, which I really liked to hear.”

He said the most important thing that he was looking for in a candidate was electability.

“I don’t think Donald Trump is electable,” he said. “I think we need a candidate that appeals to more people that doesn’t have that divisiveness, that doesn’t have that past.”

Elizabeth, a 22-year-old college graduate whose top issue was the economy, was leaning toward Ramaswamy headed into the debate and said that she thought that he performed “extremely well.”

“I know I said that I expected him to. And I’m sure he knew that he was in the lion’s den. I mean, he had no political experience going in, he knew that he was going to face this barrage of insults and attacks,” she said. “And he handled it just, I thought, excellently. He had something to say, he had some way to spin it for every insult that was thrown at him, be it his youth, whether he was the only one on stage who was bought and paid for, he was able to handle all of it. And I think I just think he handled himself very, very well.”

Hemmer was surprised by her remarks and pressed her further, believing that she had at one point been open to supporting Haley.

“I am all about — I was all about Vivek,” she said. “But you know what, after watching the debate, I do have to agree with some other members on the panel. I think the strongest performer in terms of who will do well in the general election, who will do well with the most Republicans is actually Ron DeSantis. I think he has the experience.”

She said that DeSantis laid the base for his performance with all the work that he has done over last few years.

“He had an answer for the natural disasters that are happening, the tough on crime policies that he has to enact, that he’s already enacted, that he can prove to all the viewers and all the Republicans who were maybe undecided, I think that was perhaps solidified last night,” she said.

Perino noted that Elizabeth appeared to be having a battle between her mind and her heart.

“I think the mind has to, I think the mind has to be the one that wins that one,” she said. “So there’s my answer.”

Ed, a 50-year-old salesman who said that the economy was his top issue, was leaning toward Ramaswamy headed into the debate and praised most of the candidates after seeing them debate.

“Governor Burgum did a phenomenal job. I really liked how he illustrated and focused on policy regarding foreign policy with China, Russia,” he said. “Christie even came across really good, except when he started going back to the schoolyard bully antics. Not a fan of that. Mike Pence, again, phenomenal statesman.”

“But at the end of the day, I looked at two people, I was still more leaning toward Ramaswamy. I liked what he had to say,” he said. “But DeSantis really, when you looked at what he had to do last night, DeSantis didn’t have to win, he just needed to survive to debate. But he came across as charismatic. He came across as strong character, projected strength and confidence, and to me that was a big takeaway. We still got 11 months before the primary vote. That’s a lifetime.”

Kevin, the 21-year-old student, later said that he believes that DeSantis was “the only one with the experience” and the ability to catch Trump in the polls.

“I think he’s got similar Trumpisms, I think people would describe him as with the way that he acts,” he said. “And so I think a lot of people would think about voting for him over Trump.”

Chris, the restaurant owner, agreed, saying that DeSantis presented himself as “a viable alternative to Donald Trump.”

“And I think he was able to do that. I think he showed, you know, what he’s done in Florida, he can replicate for the country,” he said. “I think he shows that he’s electable, and again, I think that has to be the most important thing as a Republican voter that we’re concerned about, is that we nominate a candidate that can beat the Democrats.”

Denise also chimed in, saying that what she liked were his “action plans” about what he was going to do and how he was going to do it.


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