Presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden and the Democrats are highlighting the party’s inclusive “big tent” Monday night as their 2020 National Convention gets underway with a lineup that features as many former Republican governors as “democratic socialists” — along with the star power of Michelle Obama.
The former first lady will stress Biden’s competency and character in a keynote address expected to draw sharp contrasts between the Republican incumbent seeking re-election and the man who was her husband’s two-term vice president, an adviser said.
“This election is very personal for her,” Valerie Jarrett, a longtime adviser to Barack and Michelle Obama, told The Associated Press.
The Democratic National Convention is not a convention in the traditional sense. There will be no physical gathering place, no cheering audience, no balloons. Republicans face the same challenge next week.
The Democrats’ program consists of a series of online video addresses — half of which will be prerecorded — that will play out for two hours each night until Biden formally accepts the Democratic presidential nomination in a mostly empty Delaware ballroom on Thursday.
The convention was originally to have taken place in July, attracted about 50,000 people to Milwaukee and injected about $250 million US into the economy of the key presidential battleground state.
It would have been the first time Milwaukee, a metropolitan area of 1.6 million, hosted a presidential nominating convention.
Organizers were eager to tell the story of a resilient, post-industrial city that is home to thriving, diverse neighbourhoods, a vibrant restaurant scene and a growing tech industry.
More crucially, they also planned to highlight Democrats’ commitment to the city and Wisconsin, a state President Donald Trump won by fewer than 23,000 votes in 2016 and where this year’s race may again be decided.
WATCH l Howard Dean on what might look different, what will be similar:
While the format has changed, the party will make history by unveiling the nation’s first female vice-presidential nominee of colour, Kamala Harris.
But some of the presentations risk being stale. Obama, for example, recorded her keynote address before Biden announced his running mate six days ago.
The speaking program also features two former presidents, two past presidential nominees, a former Republican governor, a New York ultra-billionaire and various working-class Americans.
“Nothing about 2020 has been normal. So I don’t think anyone expected that this convention would be normal either,” said Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who was under consideration to serve as Biden’s running mate and will speak at the convention.
“I hope wherever people are that they’re excited about the moment and the opportunity that lies before us.”
The online gathering comes as Democratic officials work to energize supporters behind Biden’s candidacy — not simply against Trump’s.
“The theme tonight is, ‘We the People’ — not, ‘We the Democrats,’ not, ‘We the Black People,’ not, ‘We White People,’ not, ‘We Republicans,’ but ‘We the People,” said Biden campaign co-chair Rep. Cedric Richmond. “There are a bunch of people out there, silent Biden voters, Republicans that want to vote for Biden or will be voting for Biden, and it’s important to let them know they’re not alone.”
While Trump is a huge motivator for many Democrats, there is some concern within the party that swing voters and lower-information voters who lean Democrat aren’t locks to cast ballots for Biden this fall, especially as the pandemic creates barriers to voting.
At the same time, Trump and his allies are fighting to scare away would-be Biden-Harris backers by describing the Democrats’ 2020 ticket as the most ideologically extreme in American history.
While widely considered a political moderate — at least compared with the likes of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren — Biden has plans to implement a Medicare-like system for those who want it, sweeping environmental protections and higher taxes on the rich.
Still, Biden attracted the support of former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, who is scheduled to speak Monday. Kasich is not the only high-profile Republican featured at the convention on Monday, with former New Jersey governor Christine Whitman and current Quibi chief executive Meg Whitman, who previously led Hewlett Packard, also set to speak.
The inclusion of Kasich, who opposed abortion rights and fought labour unions while in office, rankled some progressives.
“I’m glad that John and other moderate-type Republicans understand that it is wrong to be supporting Trump,” Sanders told The Associated Press. “But what John says has nothing to do with what I will say. My speech has everything to do with the need to defeat Trump, elect Biden and move the country into a government that works for all of us and not just the 1 per cent.”
Without the opportunity for the approximately 4,800 Democratic delegates from across the country to gather on the same convention hall floor, as is tradition, the opportunity for a genuine convention debate over the direction of the party has been eliminated.
Larry Cohen, a prominent rules committee member and Sanders confidant, lamented the loss of an in-person convention, but not because it limits debate.
“The key of a convention, really, is the party building that comes with 57 different delegations,” he said, noting the in-person daily meetings that would occur in hotels across a host city.
“You shape the party in those breakfast meetings, where you argue over what it means to be a Democrat in Wyoming, what does it mean in Georgia.”