U.S. Democrats are opening their national convention Monday, a four-day virtual affair with delegates and speakers scattered across the country that has one united mission: helping former Vice President Joe Biden defeat President Donald Trump in the November election.
An array of Democratic luminaries, including former Democratic presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton and 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton, is set to extol the virtues of the 77-year-old Biden and his vice-presidential running mate, California Senator Kamala Harris, the first Black woman and first South Asian American on a national party ticket in the U.S.
Plans call for Biden to accept the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination Thursday night in his third run for the White House over three decades, but the first time he will be the party’s nominee for a four-year term as the U.S. leader.
It will be a political event unlike any ever seen by living Americans, a convention and acceptance speech conducted online without the traditional hoopla of the quadrennial Democratic and Republican gatherings with partisans cheering their nominee’s pronouncements and attacks on the opposition.
The Democrats had scheduled their convention in the midwestern city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but with the unchecked coronavirus pandemic all but calling off planned large crowds in the United States and the number of infections increasing by thousands a day, party officials told convention delegates and speakers to stay home.
Biden will accept the Democratic presidential nomination in his home state of Delaware, absent much of anyone except aides and political advisers present. At a normal convention, a presidential candidate could interact with his political supporters, wait for the cheers from applause lines, smile at the response he was drawing.
But not this year.
Trump plans to accept his Republican renomination for a second term a week later, on August 27, with a speech on the South Lawn of the White House after Republicans sharply curtailed their convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Meantime, Trump and Vice President Mike Pence plan to visit several political battleground states this week to try to upstage Biden’s show, including a stop Thursday by Trump near where Biden grew up in the northeastern city of Scranton, Pennsylvania.
As Biden enters the pivotal week, national surveys continue to show him leading Trump, as he has for months. The aggregate compiled by the Real Clear Politics website shows Biden ahead by an average of about 8 percentage points, but less in key states that are expected to determine the overall outcome.
U.S. presidential elections are not determined by the national popular vote, but rather indirectly by the winners in each of the 50 states and the national capital of Washington in the Electoral College.
The biggest states, such as California with 55 electors and Texas with 38, hold the most sway in the Electoral College, with a majority of the 270 of the 538 electors needed to capture the presidency. Seven states and the city of Washington have the fewest, three electoral votes apiece.
In 2016, Trump lost the national popular vote to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million votes but won the presidency because he narrowly captured three states — Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin — and their electoral votes. Polls show Biden ahead in all three of those states at the moment but by smaller margins than his overall national lead, giving Trump a plausible chance to pull ahead in the final weeks of the campaign even should he again lose the national popular vote.
Biden defeated a large contingent of other Democratic officials for the nomination, including Harris, whom he tapped last week as his running mate after months ago declaring he would pick a woman. She is the fourth woman to join a major national party ticket in the U.S. and would become the highest-ranking female leader in U.S. history if the Biden-Harris pairing wins. The three previous women on national party tickets, two vice-presidential candidates and Hillary Clinton four years ago, all lost.
Biden, if he wins, would be 78 at his inauguration next January, making him the oldest U.S. leader ever, topping Trump, who is 74. Biden has called himself “a bridge to the future,” and U.S. political analysts are predicting that he might serve only one term. That would instantly make Harris a leading Democratic presidential contender in 2024.
Democrats are showcasing an array of speakers with each of the four nights of the convention organized around a different theme: “We the People,” “Leadership Matters,” “A More Perfect Union” and “America’s Promise.”
Monday’s speakers include former first lady Michelle Obama, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont — the leader of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party and Biden’s last challenger for the party’s presidential nomination — and former Republican Governor John Kasich of Ohio, who has become an outspoken Trump critic.
Former President Clinton, Biden’s wife, Jill, a long-time educator; 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer are among those speaking Tuesday night.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, former President Obama and Harris are speaking Wednesday.
The convention winds up Thursday with speeches from more top Democratic figures and Biden family members, culminating with Biden’s nomination acceptance speech.