“This is our moment to make hope and history rhyme, with passion and purpose,” he said.
It won’t be surprising if the polls don’t show a “bounce” from a four-night political event that was forced by circumstance to be unlike any before.
The nightly audiences for the virtual gathering, which replaced the traditional one that a virus might have made lethal, were smaller than have been seen for recent party conventions. And even those had been losing viewers over the decades since they have lost their suspense and turned into infomercials.
A post-convention surge is also harder to achieve when the country is deeply polarized, as it is now, and when the two parties stage theirs back to back, as they will this year.
Even when the poll numbers jump, the rise usually has little staying power — as 1988 Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis could ruefully attest. The Massachusetts governor rocketed out of his July convention with a 17-point national lead, only to lose in the fall to then-Vice President George H.W. Bush by nearly eight points in the popular vote and a landslide in the electoral college.
Biden’s strategists are hoping for a different measure of success, one that may not be entirely apparent for a while. He entered his convention ahead of Trump by a double-digit margin in the national surveys, and a somewhat smaller one in the battleground states.
But a fair amount of that is what pollsters calls “soft” support. They are those persuadable or less engaged Americans whom former president Barack Obama described on Wednesday night as “still not sure which candidate you’ll vote for — or whether you’ll vote at all. Maybe you’re tired of the direction we’re headed, but you can’t see a better path yet, or you just don’t know enough about the person who wants to lead us there.”
Building a more solid foundation under the advantage that Biden now holds called for a convention that delivered several messages: That Trump has put the country in a situation that is not only bad, but also urgent. That Biden has qualities that most people find lacking in the current president, including empathy, experience, a willingness to surround himself with experts and a capacity to listen to their advice. And most of all, that Biden has a vision for how to rescue America from threats not only to its security, but its soul.
Throughout the convention, the party made its case in a manner fit for the moment, and one that would have been impossible in the chaotic, boozed-up merriment of a traditional convention floor. There was a parade of Democratic luminaries and former stalwarts of the Republican establishment horrified at what their party has become in the Trump era. Sprinkled among them were ordinary Americans testifying to their daily struggles.
Even the traditional roll call of state delegations casting their votes for the party standard-bearer became an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the vastness and diversity of the nation that Biden wants to lead. It brought the convention hall to the country, rather than the other way around.
Michelle Obama, whose cultural appeal transcends politics, forcefully laid out the case against Trump on opening night. It would have been hard to imagine her giving that speech — in which, as my Post colleague Robin Givhan put it, the former first lady came off as “an especially eloquent neighbor” — had she been delivering it to a cavernous hall full of delegates.
Jill Biden, a potential first lady whom most people have not heard speak at length, or at all, steered a sharp pivot toward hope on Tuesday. Speaking from a high school classroom where she once taught English, the nominee’s wife described in intimate terms a husband and father who has endured personal losses and emerged with a heart big enough to “do for your family what he did for ours: Bring us together and make us whole, carry us forward in our time of need, keep the promise of America for all of us.”
Even more powerful testimony came from the back-to-back presentations Wednesday night by Barack Obama, who in 2008 picked Biden to be his running mate and governing partner, and Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.), whom Biden selected to be the first woman of color from a major political party ever to carry those same responsibilities on her shoulders.
Did it all work? We will begin to learn the answer when the Republicans attempt to offer a more compelling rejoinder at their own convention next week. The Democrats have not made it easy for them.