Do you want a road map to the general election for Mitt Romney and President Obama? Think amusement parks and summer fun - and specifically think Disney World, Cedar Point, and Kings Dominion.
There are many important geographic areas in this election, and many key demographic groups that will be decisive in deciding this presidential race. Many issues will be discussed. No one of them will be the deciding factor. But if we try to whittle this down to a key narrative arc, then we arrive at roller coasters, cotton candy, and fun children's shows this summer.
Working women with children will likely be the most important group that Mitt Romney must focus on in the coming months. These middle-class women, who continue to struggle economically and emotionally, are looking for the candidate who best speaks to their hopes, hearts and dreams. They carry with them the anxieties that go with raising healthy, decent children and paying bills while finding some leisure time along the way. They have suffered through this modern economy. Though they see some positive signs, they aren't yet convinced. And they don't really want this election to be about contraception or abortion or some other social issue. They don't want the right telling them about family values, and they don't want the left using them as some pawn in a constructed "war on women."
Romney absolutely has to win three states to win the presidency - Florida, Ohio and Virginia. He cannot win without capturing all three. His campaign understands that, and so does President Obama's. If the Obama campaign can pick off one of these states, the election is over.
That brings us to Sandusky, Ohio, home of the amusement park Cedar Point; Orlando, Fla., site of Disney World; and outside Richmond, Va., where Kings Dominion is located. Many of these women will be taking their kids to these parks this summer, having saved a little money for a day or two or three of fun. These are women who would like to be soccer moms, but just don't have the time in their schedules to get to games. Or they are so tired after a long day or week of work, errands, and carpooling that they just want to sleep or watch TV.
Right now, Obama is doing well with this group, and that's why he has a slight lead in the national polls. But these women aren't locked into their choice yet, because they are not fully convinced the president has the right vision or plan to lead us forth. They want to believe, but they just don't trust it. As in their personal lives, these women have been promised many things by political leaders who haven't delivered or who have broken their word. This leaves Romney an opening, but he can't win this group with more promises or great speeches or becoming something he thinks they want. They want a strong leader who is sure of himself, and who also understands what they are going through both in the economy and in their homes and lives. And they want a leader who is compassionate enough to not always pick a fight, whether it's abroad with a potential enemy or at home with an opposing political party.
The path to victory for Romney this fall goes through the amusement parks in these three locations. The women lined up outside the gates holding a kid in each arm are looking for a leader whom they can trust who can convince them that they know the destination of this country as well as how to get us there together as a family.