It'll all be over soon.
After months and months of constant campaigning, the polls will close Tuesday night. Someone will give a victory speech, and someone will give a concession
speech. Though those speeches often fit rather rigid templates, President Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney may have a little extra
responsibility in terms of their content and tone this time around.
"Whichever candidate wins tomorrow will be elected after one of the most bitterly fought and closely divided campaigns in American history," says Hal
Gordon, a former speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan.
The numbers tell the tale: The candidates set a record this year for the most negative campaign ads in a presidential race, according to a study from the Wesleyan Media Project.
In their speeches, the candidates will have to stop throwing punches and set a more conciliatory tone, Gordon and other speechwriters say.
Gordon says either candidate probably would give the same victory speech.
"Be gracious to the loser, be appreciative of his supporters, be hopeful about the future, and appeal to all Americans for their support," he says.
"Writing the victory speech will be easy."
John Watkis of Well Written, Well Said says there's a little more to it, however. Both
candidates will have to acknowledge just how tight the race has been, he says. They should avoid blame and look forward in their speeches, Watkis says.
They'll also need to "temper their statements," he suggests. Tell people that job growth isn't going to happen overnight.
Obama should add some discussion of the contentious relationship he and the Republican-led House have had, with assurance that his approach to Congress
will have to shift, Watkis says.
If Romney wins, he'll need to state his willingness to work with Democrats, Watkis advises. And with Romney's "47 percent" comments still lingering in many
voters' minds, he should say definitively that he will serve as president for 100 percent of Americans.
Ken Askew, a former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush, puts his opinion pretty succinctly.
"I don't know what they should say, but I know what they shouldn't: 'I won.'"
Whoever ends up conceding has a responsibility to calm a crowd that will be pretty upset. Watkis says the loser should tell supporters to respect the
office of the president no matter who holds it. They can make their voices heard, but they have to play by the rules.
Gordon says the concession speech will be a harder nut to crack than the victory speech.
"The supporters of the losing candidate will be furious and will be too polarized to want to hear their candidate appeal for national unity," he says.
Whichever candidate concedes might take a page from the Bible, Gordon says, particularly Paul's second letter to Timothy. Specifically, the losing
candidate might say something like this, he advises:
"We have fought the good fight, we have finished the race, and we have kept the faith. But let us remember that what unites us as Americans is much more
important than what divides us into political parties. Let us have faith that regardless of the outcome of this election, America will prevail."
Will it matter?
Communications consultant Fraser Seitel says each candidate has to say it's time for both parties to bury their pettiness and start compromising. It's what
voters desperately want. Even after a highly contentious campaign, Seitel says that type of message can resonate.
"If it doesn't and either Dems or Republicans block these immediate necessary fixes, the president, solidly entrenched for four years, can man the bully
pulpit, witheringly attack the obstructionists, and easily invoke the wrath of the American people, who, finally, I suspect, have had enough," he says.
Bob Lehrman, former speechwriter for Vice President Al Gore and a professor of public communication at American University, says the speeches will probably
follow a well-worn template. The loser will tell the crowd it fought the good fight, and he will congratulate the winner.
The winner will tell supporters, "you did it," say the road ahead will be difficult, and inspire in the end, he says.
"Why not do this by e-mail?" he asks. "Basically, there's a dance the winner and loser perform, and the steps are always the same."
Matt Wilson is a staff writer for Ragan.com.