POLITICS
10/23/2012 12:26 am ET | Updated Oct 23, 2012

Mitt Romney's Debate Comments On Israel, Unions Big Hit With Wisconsin GOP

WAUKESHA, Wis. -- Balanced budgets, Bibi Netanyahu and busting teachers' unions are in. Obamacare, sequestration and bringing up the Bush administration are out.

That was the verdict of about 100 Republican stalwarts who showed up for a debate watch party at the headquarters of the Republican Party of Waukesha County on Monday night. Folks sat on folding chairs in a warehouse-like room adorned with pro-Romney signs, watching Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama on a large screen. Waukesha is a solidly Republican area, and the reactions of the crowd give a glimpse at how Romney's performance played with his base. It was one of 38 debate-watching parties the Romney campaign hosted in the state.

Overall, the crowd thought Romney did very well -- although perhaps not better than his first debate performance, which some believed would be impossible to beat.

"For Romney, he had to show independent voters that he can handle foreign policy, that he understood the problems the president's got -- particularly with respect to the Middle East, because that's what we're talking about right now," said Brian Schimming, first vice chairman of the Republican Party of Wisconsin.

Schimming, who has done debate prep and worked for Republican politicians in Wisconsin, said Romney was particularly strong on Libya and Israel, two hot spots in foreign policy right now.

"For my purposes, I wanted him to show the differences on the foreign policy issues that people are most familiar with right now, and I thought he did that. I thought he was great," Schimming added.

Romney received his biggest cheers when he went right after Obama's foreign policy.

The crowd particularly liked it when Romney said the president had gone on an "apology tour," giving him some of the loudest cheers of the night: "Number two, Mr. President, the reason I call it an apology tour is because you went to the Middle East and you flew to Egypt and to Saudi Arabia and to Turkey and Iraq. And by the way, you skipped Israel, our closest friend in the region, but you went to the other nations. ... You said that on occasion America had dictated to other nations. Mr. President, America has not dictated to other nations. We have freed other nations from dictators."

The GOP debate-watchers also liked it when Romney, early on, told Obama that "attacking me is not an agenda" and that he was "not going to wear rose-colored glasses when it comes to Russia, or Mr. Putin."

Donna Armstrong from Pewaukee, in Waukesha County, said she believed Romney when he asserted that he wants military force to be the very last option for the United States to solve its problems.

"I think he really gave a good plan for wanting peace," Armstrong said. "I don't think they've really talked about peace this entire campaign. And I think he really brought out what we all want in the United States. We don't want a lot of turmoil, we don't want a lot of wars; we want peace."

"If you take a look at Obama, I think he had talking points all the time," said Dave Temple, a Republican from Waukesha. "It's like you pull a string, and he said the same thing over and over again."

Some of the biggest cheers came on non-foreign policy parts of the debate, underscoring that the minutiae of U.S. policy toward China and Syria is not where Americans are focused.

The crowd loved when Romney said, "We're going to have to have training programs that work for our workers and schools that finally put the parents and the teachers and the kids first, and the teachers' unions are going to have to go behind." After all, labor battles have polarized the state over the past year, when Gov. Scott Walker (R) became a conservative hero for stripping the collective bargaining rights from most public workers.

And not surprisingly, the Waukesha Republicans all had a gigantic chuckle when debate moderator Bob Schieffer accidentally said, "Obama bin Laden."

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