BOULDER, Colo. (CBS4) – Plenty of political groups want to get their messages to the candidates during the Republican presidential debate at the University of Colorado in Boulder Wednesday evening, but the debate will center on one topic — the economy.

It doesn’t get any better than this for the political junkies. There are rallies and roundtables, panels and news conferences. There’s even a big peace march planned on Wednesday from downtown Boulder to the Coors Events Center where the debate will take place.

But the key issue at the debate will be the economy, and CBS4 Political Specialist Shaun Boyd sat down with a man who is arguably the most influential conservative on the subject — Arthur Brooks.

Arthur Brooks (credit: CBS)

Arthur Brooks (credit: CBS)

When the Republican presidential candidates take the stage in Boulder maybe nobody’s ideas on the economy will shape the debate more than those of Brooks. He’s president of the American Enterprise Institute, one of the country’s most influential think tanks. Brooks has advised virtually every GOP candidate on what he calls conservative social justice.

“Republicans need to take the game to this and say, ‘We’ve been leaving the bottom half for a long time and we’re going to be warriors for the poor,'” Brooks said.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

Brooks is also the author of the New York Times bestseller “The Conservative Heart” and insists conservative policies are better for the poor.

On the minimum wage he said, “Republicans have to say, ‘Here’s the deal; I believe morally if you play by the rules and you work hard you should be able support yourself and your family.’ Two, the problem with the minimum wage is it doesn’t do that, especially if you’re poor, and especially if you’re minority poor,” Brooks said. “So three, ‘I’ve got a better policy to get it done and it’s going to cost some money; I’m going to increase the earned income tax credit … we’re going to prop up wages — the more you work, the more you make without destroying your job.'”

On income inequality he says candidates need to shift the debate to make the moral case for work over welfare.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

“The real inequality problem in America is opportunity inequality,” he said. “And the people who want to be president have to have an approach to this that really does make the case that ‘I’m going to fight for you and your family whether you vote for me or not. And I’m going to have a preference for the people in the bottom half.’ This has to be the main message of the new right, and by way it also has to be happy.”

He says conservatives too often come across as grumpy. The happy conservative warrior for the poor is the one who he says will not only win debates, but win hearts.

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“If you want be successful in public life you have to stop fighting against things and start fighting for people,” Brooks said.

CBS4 Political Specialist Shaun Boyd sat down with Arthur Brooks (credit: CBS)

CBS4 Political Specialist Shaun Boyd sat down with Arthur Brooks (credit: CBS)

The American Enterprise Institute hosted a panel discussion on the CU campus Tuesday night that focused on the economy.

The Democratic National Committee is also in Boulder and argues Republicans are the party against — not for — the poor.

“Against the minimum wage, cutting food stamps for people, cutting college aid for poor kids going to college. You think that’s going to help bring people out of poverty? I don’t think so. I think that’s a recipe for disaster,” said. Eric Walker, Democratic National Committee Press Secretary.

The debate, titled CNBC’s Your Money, Your Vote: The Presidential Debate on the Economy takes place at 6 p.m. at the Coors Events Center. More information is available at cnbc.com/gop-debate-2016/.

Look for CBS4’s continuing reports leading up to the debate and analysis afterwards on CBS4 News and CBSDenver.com.

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