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How to Grab the Attention of Undecided Voters

09/26/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Small details, exact costs, specifics, particulars - all are fatal to a convention speech. Just ask Bill Clinton as he walked off the podium after delivering his keynote address at the 1988 Democratic Convention. And yet, when the themes for the next couple of nights - "Renewing America's Promise," "Securing America's Future," - quickly give way to "defining John McCain," I'd like to hear all the prime-time speakers define McCain by drawing precisely detailed portraits of exactly what a McCain presidency would offer up to Americans - and to do so they should deliver speeches chock full of exact costs, specifics and particulars.

Yes, debunk the "Maverick" label. Highlight the 95% voting allegiance to President Bush. Notify voters that aren't clear on it, that McCain isn't pro-choice. Remind voters of his most appalling statements.

But after two months of a one-on-one contest, and a lengthy primary season before that, for many voters - even those who don't watch MSNBC, CNBC or FOX with devotion that would be the envy of a Trappist Monk - the stock reasons why Democrats are asking voters not to vote for McCain already amount to, "heard that, what's new?" Conversely, a single stark, alarming, very specific detail can grab the attention and stick in the craw of an undecided voter.

Grab the attention of a lower-income, blue-collar parent with the number $400 million - the exact cost of an annual subsidy for rural communities eliminated under the Bush tax cuts that McCain supports, which lead to very specific consequences like the inability to monitor sex offenders because of the particulars - ankle-strapped electronic tracking devices that costs $7.

Grab the attention of the children of seniors with the specific that 16% of those on Medicare do not take prescribed blood pressure medications from September through December because they've reached their coverage limit - a limit that would remain unchanged or be reduced under McCain's health care system - leading to a 4% increase in the risk of hospitalization for heart attack or stroke.

Grab the attention of Vietnam veterans who revere McCain, by pointing out that he voted against exactly $1,047,000,000 to correct shortages of specific items like helmets, tents, bullet-proof inserts, and tactical vests required for National Guard and Reservists serving in Iraq - the same soldiers who would continue to serve ill-equipped and for endless tours if McCain's budgeting and strategies win the day.

Precedent for this sort barrage of details? As president, the same Bill Clinton who had bombed at the convention in '88, continued with his habit of burying Americans under piles of details. His State of the Union addresses were mocked as snooze-inducing "laundry lists" of trivial proposals. But his small bites of policy grabbed the attention of targeted pockets of voters and spoke to each group's unique concerns - "soccer moms" who wanted school uniforms and similar gambits. It was focus group driven pandering. But pointing out the specific disasters that will be the result of McCain's policies is not that - it's offering fair warning.

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