Virtual Democratic Convention: Joe Biden’s campaign in the shadow of COVID

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This is not the Democratic National Convention that Joe Biden wanted, but it’s the one he’s got.

Usually, the gatherings held by America’s Democrats and Republicans every four years to formally choose a presidential nominee are raucous affairs: thousands of cheering delegates, party platform debates and balloons galore.

Joe Biden’s Democratic National Convention not as planned

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The first all-virtual Democratic National Convention is in full swing, but don’t expect fireworks. The event runs through Thursday in a truncated-for-TV two hours a night that’s apparently not setting any viewership records, even with most Americans stuck at home.

It likely won’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s followed former Vice President Joe Biden’s  unlikely rise to the top of the party this year, but this year’s unusual Democratic National Convention doesn’t inject any interesting social media twists or pull off any amazing technical feats of virtual presence.

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As with so many things, 2020 is anything but usual, and Biden’s decades-long quest to be his party’s White House candidate will culminate… online, in the cloud.

Read more: Trump claims Biden ‘not competent’ and ‘mentally shot’ to be President

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As the coronavirus crisis lingers across America, the convention center in the Midwestern city of Milwaukee — already a step down from the Democrats’ original arena site — is empty.

There are no delegates clad in blue, no signs, no hordes of journalists — just an endless slick stream of recorded messages from party luminaries and applause from cyberspace.

“It is a disappointment for sure,” says Jeff Sommers, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, at the Canary Coffee Bar.

Local student Lauren Farich echoes that thought.

“I understand why they had to do what they did, but it would have been cool if it was, you know, normal,” Farich tells.

Bringing an online Democratic National Convention to life

The announcement in March 2019 that Milwaukee — best known for its breweries and the Harley-Davidson Museum — would host the 2020 Democratic convention had thrilled store owners hoping to cash in on the arrival of some 50,000 out-of-towners.

Read more: US Election 2020: Trump battles mail-in voting, risks increased infections

Instead, the only thing clustered around the Wisconsin Center were security fences.

Inside, some of the few on site are the producers bringing the unprecedented, nearly all-virtual convention to life — and trying their best to recreate the traditional format.

The convention chairman gavelled in the proceedings, children and young adults sang the national anthem in a Zoom-like format, and actress Eva Longoria served as emcee — from a studio.

The speeches were far shorter than usual, and nearly all pre-recorded, including the keynote from former first lady Michelle Obama.

The lack of applause between speakers was a far cry from the norm.

The event has earned immediate scorn from President Donald Trump, who will rally his party faithful next week.

“You know, when you hear a speech is taped, it’s like there’s nothing very exciting about it, right?” he said Monday.

Trump plans to deliver his nomination acceptance speech live from the White House.

For Bob Dommek, a 56-year-old who voted for Trump in 2016 who said he watched the last hour of Monday night’s event — especially the speeches from pro-Biden Republicans like John Kasich — the night had “zero energy.”

Though Dommek — who says he’s on the fence between Trump and Biden this time — had a fairly positive view of the night overall, he lamented the format.

“You want to hear a laugh track or something in the background — something, you know, I think, to try and liven it up would be good.”

Read more: US convention season: Democrats host virtual convention with spotlight on Biden

It remains to be seen how the new-look convention will play with voters and viewers. In 2016, between 25 and 30 million people tuned in for each night of the convention that saw Hillary Clinton named the nominee to take on Trump.

Unexpected DNC takes down Trump 

While the first night of the DNC elevated the national protest movement against police violence and anti-Black racism, its second night lineup looks less inspired. But considering that Monday gave generous screen time to Republican John Kasich’s appeal against Trump, the convention’s focus on the center of the political spectrum likely won’t come as a shock.

In a weird moment for both tech and politics, Quibi CEO Meg Whitman, the Republican former chief executive of HP, made her own unlikely anti-Trump cameo.

“I’m a longtime Republican and a longtime CEO — and let me tell you, Donald Trump has no clue how to run a business, let alone an economy,” Whitman said. Tech didn’t have many other moments, unless you count the suitcase with the iPhone.

Between the lack of spontaneous moments and the scarcity of speakers further left, young and otherwise left-leaning viewers might only tune in for a few moments Tuesday. One of those is bound to be the controversially brief slot allotted to progressive star Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who will deliver one minute of prepared remarks. Tuesday will also feature Georgia’s Stacey Abrams, who ran for governor in 2018 and now continues her advocacy work with Fair Fight, her voting rights organization. Abrams won’t appear solo though — in lieu of a proper second night keynote, she’ll be joined by 16 other young rising figures in the Democratic party who will share the time.

Read more: Kamala Harris: Biden’s running mate makes history for blacks in the USA

Anyone wistful for Democratic eras gone by can watch former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter speak Tuesday along with former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. The DNC’s second night also looks set to dive a bit deeper into policy, with two segments refreshingly focused on Joe Biden’s plans for governing, one on healthcare and one on national security.

AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk

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