WASHINGTON — Forget about the brain, target the heart.

Those emotional appeals can be key to winning presidential elections, NBC News Chief White House Correspondent David Gregory said in his keynote address at NAFCU’s Congressional Caucus.

While the issue positions of presidential candidates are important, voters often make their choice based on emotional considerations.

“We want to get a sense of them. Voting is an emotional process,” he said. “When you interview somebody for a job, you don’t just look at their resume.”

He recalled telling his father not to focus as much on the details of candidates’ policy proposals because those will change once they get into office. Instead, focus on the character, decision-making skills and temperament of the candidate.

Gregory noted the concerns of many voters, especially independents, about the level of experience of GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.

“Are independent voters comfortable with Palin a heartbeat away? Are voters comfortable with having someone who has a steep learning curve?” are some of the questions that have voters wondering.

He pointed out that presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain chose running mates to compensate for things that voters found lacking in them.

“Obama picked Biden to lend him credibility on foreign policy. McCain picked Palin to give him a fresh face and energize the base,” Gregory explained.

Gregory, who also hosts a nightly program on MSNBC, criticized the tendency among activists on both sides of the aisle to not give their opponents the benefit of the doubt.

“There is a tendency that when we don’t know people, we demonize them. We need to engage our leaders and hold them accountable without demonizing people because that gets in the way of constructive conversation,” he said.

Gregory added that in light of the current economic situation, neither candidate has been able to craft a message that speaks to the concerns of most Americans. He said whichever candidate can be as effective as then-Gov. Bill Clinton–whose advisers coined the phrase “It’s the economy, stupid”–was in 1992 in addressing people’s anxieties will win the election in November.

–cmarx@cutimes.com