The convention pictures that have been beaming into your living room from Tampa, and will be coming from Charlotte, N.C., next week, convey a party atmosphere -- pun intended. Conventions are the candidates' chance to own the microphone in front of a love-fest of adoring loyalists. What curmudgeon would deny them this mother of all coming-out parties?
Even a jaded political veteran like me, who's worked three national conventions, feels his pulse pick up a tick as we approach the acceptance speeches.
Yet images of delegates wearing funny hats seem out of touch with the problems facing most Americans. With unemployment high and economic development stagnant, the moderate swing voters in the war states, who will decide this election, are looking for solutions.
Long Islanders are demographically identical to these key target areas. We are pretty evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, with a huge number of independents. We are middle-class, suburban and growing more ethnically and racially diverse every day.
Face it, we're swingers. We will vote for a Democrat or a Republican depending on our mood, the candidate and the issues of the day. Rest assured, if Long Island were a state we'd be a war state. The national parties would be spending tons of dollars to garner our electoral votes. Pizza for everyone!
Long Islanders, and indeed all undecided voters, want to hear real solutions to the major issues, not self-aggrandizing hyperbole. Recent polling on Long Island by my firm, Strategic Planning, clearly shows that undecided voters will make up their minds based on who can deal more effectively with unemployment, cut government spending and avoid tax increases. But while a concrete plan of action to deal with these problems might help seal the deal for former Gov. Mitt Romney or President Barack Obama, don't bet the mortgage on hearing much detail.
If Romney's speech is anything like his campaign rhetoric so far, he'll tell us that this race is about two very different visions for America. He'll tout his business experience and cast the race as a referendum on the incumbent's record of failure.
Pulling this off is critical. He knows the president's likability rating is high. A popularity contest is not the best venue for Romney. Keeping the debate on the economy and touting his own record of fiscal success is his best strategy.
Having been both pro-choice and pro-health care reform in his former life as Massachusetts' governor, Romney doesn't enjoy the absolute trust of the hard right. The temptation in his speech may be to solidify his relationship with them, but that would be a mistake. Moderate swing voters will decide the next president. Appealing to them is tougher. His speech would require particulars and not just rhetoric. If you have a plan to cut taxes, which ones? Defense spending, social programs . . . what will be cut or saved? If you're going to create jobs, how? Small business incentives . . . green technology . . . what's the focus?
Next week, Obama will have to do the same thing, only he'll have to defend four years the American people do not rate as a success. The big difference is that there will be no mystery as far as his target audience is concerned: He'll be shooting straight at the middle.
While the conventions might not attract as big a TV audience as in days of old, undecided moderates on Long Island -- and everywhere -- will be watching, waiting and listening for the words that will decide their vote.