Don't look for many bold pronouncements when Republicans and Democrats adopt party platforms at their national conventions.
Platforms are supposed to reflect the core values of the party and maybe provide some red meat to fire up the base, getting activists excited about supporting their presidential nominee. That's what Democrats hope to do by embracing gay marriage in their platform, a position that President Barack Obama only recently has adopted.
But no candidate wants to provide political fodder for opponents by including something in the platform that might turn off the sought-after undecided swing voters who could decide the election.
"You don't want a sentence or paragraph or phrase from your platform to be used against you in an ad or in a speech as a wedge issue," said Linda P. Schacht, a veteran of many Democratic conventions who worked on Jimmy Carter's campaigns in 1976 and 1980.
That could present a challenge for Republican Mitt Romney, who will have to contend with supporters of Rep. Ron Paul at the GOP convention in Tampa, Fla., at month's end. Paul's supporters are determined to make their mark on the convention, and the Texas congressman has pointed to the platform as a good way to do it.
"A lot of delegates who are pledged to vote for Romney are actually very strong supporters of ours and will be strongly supporting us when we want to put things into the platform to say, 'Hey, we don't need another war,'" Paul said in a recent broadcast interview. "The Federal Reserve? Yes, we do need to audit the Fed and we ought to really cut spending."
The GOP platform committee meets Monday and Tuesday in Tampa, ahead of the start of the convention Aug. 27.
Romney will have enough delegates to win any battle over the platform. But if Paul's supporters aren't placated, they could become an unwanted distraction, forcing public debates over foreign policy and the fight against terrorism at a time when Romney would rather focus on the struggling economy and his efforts to defeat Obama.
Many of Paul's libertarian views dovetail nicely with mainstream Republican ideas on limited government and low taxes. But Paul breaks with much of his party when he rails against American intervention abroad, calling the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan illegal because Congress never passed a declaration of war. Paul also calls for abolishing the Federal Reserve and repealing the Patriot Act, legislation enacted after the Sept. 11 attacks to give law enforcement more tools to fight terrorism.
Don't look for any of those positions in this year's Republican platform. But party leaders could make some concessions, perhaps agreeing to a plank that calls for an audit of the Fed or a broad statement that calls for respecting civil liberties in the fight against terrorism.
Would that be enough to appease most Paul supporters?
"The delegates are individuals. They're going to go in there, the ones we have on the platform committee, they're going to go in there and fight for what they actually want," said Marianne Stebbins, a delegate who coordinated Paul's campaign in Minnesota. "I think you're going to see — I'm hoping — quite a different platform (from 2008), where we're talking about civil liberties a little more, whether it's Internet privacy or warrantless wiretaps,"
But, she added, "You don't turn the barge around in a day."
Paul has a dedicated following, even though he didn't win a single Republican presidential primary. Nevertheless, his supporters took control of several state GOP conventions where they elected delegates to the national convention. Paul has 160 delegates, compared with 1,552 for Romney, according to The Associated Press count.
The Romney campaign treads lightly around Paul, careful not to offend his supporters but insistent that the national convention is Romney's affair.
"We look forward to preparing a platform that represents Republican conservative principles on the wide variety of issues facing the nation," Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in an email. "We are confident that there will be broad participation and that we will have a successful platform committee meeting and overall convention in Tampa."
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell will head the GOP platform committee. Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota and Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee will serve as co-chairmen.
The Democratic platform committee met a week ago and approved the platform that will be presented at the party's national convention in Charlotte, N.C. The platform endorses same-sex marriage for the first time and calls for the repeal of a federal law that denies federal marriage benefits to same-sex couples.
The same-sex marriage plank represents a milestone for advocates who have watched the platform's position on gay rights gradually evolve. Democrats first mentioned gay rights in their 1980 platform, when the party quietly added two words, "sexual orientation," to the list of reasons why people should not be discriminated against.
Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, N.J., who is co-chairman of the platform committee, said the plank is important but he questioned its impact on the outcome of the election.
"At the end of the day it'll maybe repel some and attract others to be more engaged," Booker said. "This campaign is not going to turn on gay marriage. This campaign is going to turn on who has the best ideas for the economy."