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posted: 9/14/2012 5:00 AM

Post conventions, focus is on turnout

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The national party conventions are over and the real presidential campaign has begun -- meaning enormous amounts of money are now being spent on partisan television ads in the few battleground states. Despite all the hype and hoopla coming out of Tampa and Charlotte, these conventions have become politically irrelevant pep rallies for the party faithful.

Conventions, which were once combative events, are now places to ratify candidates and policies and not debate them. To be sure, television now dictates the convention process, but in truth these gatherings have become totally about the candidate -- not party driven.

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To avoid not dwelling on my harangue too long, may I simply suggest that the most memorable event from either convention was actor Clint Eastwood stuttering banalities to an empty chair. Wait, one more gripe: Unless you have a spouse (who better be articulate) you cannot run for president. Why? He or she is needed to headline one of the convention prime time slots and praise you as a semi-saint.

What to expect in the next few weeks -- my guess -- is a lot of back and forth chitchat until the first presidential debate in early October. No doubt this White House contest will be a "turnout election" (energize your base) rather than a "conversion election" (change voters' minds). In many ways, it will be like the old days in Chicago, when Mayor Richard J. Daley and his political machine ruled. As they used to say back then, "You must get your people to the polls," because this will be a "precinct captain's election." It is somewhat ironic that in a tight 2012 presidential race, the candidate with the best get-out-the-vote "field organization" on the ground will triumph -- despite the combined spending of a couple of billion dollars.

North and Northwest suburban Chicago will see few if any presidential ads, unless your television can pick up Wisconsin stations. However, political junkies, do not despair, as some of the nation's most important congressional races will be taking place in your townships and counties. Please be kind to your local postal carriers who might become slightly hunchback from lugging all the direct mail congressional political advertising. Most of this mail will be heavy on pictures and big print and light on informed proposals about serious issues. Take note: If the Democrats hope to win back the U.S. House of Representatives, the road to that goal passes right through northern Illinois.

Final point -- and most everyone agrees -- American politics has become overly polarized. So has the news media. Forget the presidential and vice presidential debates. I would like to see a one-on-one debate between MSNBC's "Screaming" Chris Matthews and Fox's "Bellowing" Sean Hannity. These folks have no journalistic credentials; rather, they have become fellow travelers for a party and philosophy. Amazingly, no one seems to mind. Many viewers watch the cable channel that reflects their partisan positions, and that in large part limits the so-called convention appeal jump.

• Paul Green is director of the Institute for Politics at Roosevelt University in Chicago and Schaumburg.

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