Four weeks from today, the long presidential election process will finally have reached the home stretch. Then the fun begins.
There's the Republican national convention the week of August 27 in Tampa, Florida; followed immediately by the Democratic national convention the week of September 3. And after that come the all-important debates -- three presidential and one vice-presidential.
Approaching the home stretch it's a real horse race. The nation is evenly divided, and the pollsters tell us that incumbent Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney are in a statistical tie that's about as close to a dead heat as you can get.
This political junkie agrees with those political pundits who believe that October 3 is the most important of the 97 days left before November 6, when we will have a winner. That initial presidential debate could bear out the old axiom, "you never get a second chance to make a first impression".
But before that evening in Denver, when candidates Obama and Romney will share a debate stage for the first time, there are the national conventions, where the parties and their nominees will put their best foot forward and make their case before the American people.
And going into those conventions, the Democrats seem to have the best laid plans. Those plans could result in President Obama coming away from the Democratic convention with a lead in the polls sufficient to put added pressure on Mitt Romney in that critical first debate.
Look at the lineups of speakers as announced so far by the two camps. The GOP is up first, and will have Mitt Romney, and a, as yet unknown, vice presidential candidate making major speeches.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is said to be the choice as keynote speaker. And then there are the possible additions of controversial Tea Party darlings Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin.
Congresswoman Bachman has a sizable number of conservative supporters pushing for her inclusion, and former Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin has some notable backers who think she should be given time at the podium -- including Newt Gingrich.
After the GOP has concluded its convention, with a likely bump in the polls, the Democrats will take the spotlight and have the final word before the debates. Their lineup of speakers obviously includes President Obama and Vice President Biden, who will deliver a one-two punch, speaking back to back on the same evening.
Joe Biden's down-to-earth speaking style will serve the Dems well as he goes through the list of accomplishments by the Obama administration. And then President Obama will employ proven rhetorical skills as he puts forth his plans for a second term.
But the speaker who will make the difference is former President Bill Clinton, who will deliver the keynote address a night earlier. His immense popularity with the American people assures a vast, attentive audience.
And his presence on the stage will remind the electorate how it was when he was president. How it was the last time we had a Democratic president. How it was when there were balanced budgets. How it was when the wealthy paid higher taxes at the same time that the economy improved. How it was when he exited the White House and left a surplus behind.
Bill Clinton will endorse President Obama's economic plans as being akin to what proved to be so successful in the Clinton years. He will present a strong case for giving our current president four more years.
And coming out of the conventions, the horse race coud have a leader who has widened the gap on the way to the debates.