WASHINGTON - U.S. Democrats opened their national convention Monday night, a four-day virtual affair due to the coronavirus pandemic they hope will help push former Vice President Joe Biden to victory over President Donald Trump in the November election.
Former first lady Michelle Obama, progressive Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich, a Trump critic, were among those who spoke to make the case for the 77-year-old Biden on the convention’s first night.
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer stressed the need to take action to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, citing the efforts of the administration of Biden and former President Barack Obama in dealing with the economic crisis at the start of their term.
Whitmer said, “Democracy is a team sport, especially now,” and asked viewers to imagine a United States where everyone had access to free coronavirus testing and kids could safely go back to schools.
“Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will lead by example. They know the health of our people goes hand in hand with the strength of our economy,” she said.
Several Republican figures, including former New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman and one-time presidential candidate and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman, made unusual appearances at the opposing party’s convention to endorse Biden as a better choice for the country than Trump.
Kasich, who ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, said the country is “at a crossroads” and being led down “the wrong road” by a president who has pitted one person against another.
“Joe Biden is a man for our times,” Kasich said. “Times that call for all of us to take off our partisan hats and put our nation first for ourselves, and of course, for our children.”
In a segment of Michelle Obama’s taped message released ahead of the gathering, she described Biden as “a profoundly decent man, guided by faith.”
“He knows what it takes to rescue an economy, beat back a pandemic and lead our country,” Obama said. “And he listens. He will tell the truth and trust science. He will govern as someone who’s lived a life that the rest of us can recognize.”
None of the speakers will be in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where Democrats had planned to stage their quadrennial convention. Instead, they will appear in taped presentations or live online from their homes across the U.S. Technicians at television control panels will attempt to make it look like a convention of sorts to hold the attention of millions of voters.
Technicians at television control panels will attempt to make it look like a convention of sorts to hold the attention of millions of voters.
Trump ridiculed the Democratic effort during a stop at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport, where he stopped en route to a political gathering in Mankato, Minnesota.
“When you hear a speech is taped, it’s like there’s nothing very exciting about it, right?” Trump said to laughs from his supporters.
But with the coronavirus unchecked in the United States, and the death toll topping 170,000 — the highest national total across the globe — Democratic officials told would-be convention delegates and speakers to stay home.
Next week’s convention
Next week, Republicans plan to do much of the same, with limited convention activity in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Trump making his presidential renomination acceptance speech from the White House.
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 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 party’s nomination Thursday night in his third run for the White House over three decades. This will be his first time as the party’s nominee.
The convention will be a political event unlike any ever seen by living Americans, conducted online without the traditional hoopla of conventioneers cheering their nominee.
Biden will accept the nomination in his home state of Delaware, with only aides and political advisers present.
Meanwhile, Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are visiting several political battleground states this week to try to upstage the Democrats, 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 in the run-up to the Nov. 3 election. The aggregate compiled by RealClearPolitics shows Biden ahead by an average of nearly 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 indirectly by the winners in each of the 50 states and the national capital of Washington, D.C., 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 538 electors needed to capture the presidency. Seven states and Washington, D.C., have the fewest — three electoral votes apiece.
Popular vote vs. Electoral College
In 2016, Trump lost the national popular vote to 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 if he again loses the popular vote.
Biden defeated a large contingent of Democratic candidates, including Harris, whom he tapped last week as his running mate. 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.
If Biden wins, he will be 78 on Inauguration Day in 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 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 convention nights organized around different themes: “We the People,” “Leadership Matters,” “A More Perfect Union” and “America’s Promise.”
Former President Clinton, Biden’s wife, Jill, former Secretary of State John Kerry and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer are among the speakers Tuesday night.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, former President Obama and Harris are speaking Wednesday night.