Americans express tepid support for President Obama’s economic agenda and little confidence that he has the right priorities when it comes to spurring economic renewal, setting up the challenge as he seeks to re-frame the debate.

So, what should Obama’s economic message be — both in his speech in Ohio today and going forward in the campaign?

A clear win for the president in the messaging battle would be to shift voters away from their widespread dissatisfaction with his performance on the issue, and toward their alternative in the presidential contest.

Public backing of Mitt Romney’s economic plans are also lukewarm. Better yet for Obama would be to tie his Republican challenger to the Bush administration (voters continue to blame George W. Bush more than Obama for economic woes) and cast himself as a candidate who is bringing change — albeit slowly.

And Obama is on relatively firm ground when it comes to one of the themes he has emphasized in recent weeks. By a large, 22-point margin, Americans are more apt to see unfairness in the economic system that favors the wealthy as a bigger problem than government’s stifling of the free market

But there’s also some risk in the approach. Out of six potential economic messages tested in the April NBC-WSJ poll, taking aim at the “ever-widening gap between the ultra-rich and everybody else” was the least appealing to voters. On Romney’s personal wealth, as many Americans in a February Post-ABC poll said it was a positive as a negative.

What’s a more promising approach for the president (and also Romney)? The top performing statement about government and the economy in the NBC-WSJ poll was: fighting for “balance and fairness” and encouraging “the investments needed to grow our economy and strengthen the middle class.” Number two: a candidate who “says America is better off when everyone gets a fair shot, does their fair share and plays by the same rules.”

Expect to hear plenty of that language from the president today.

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