“The thing that I believe more than anything is that Donald Trump needs the roar of a crowd to feel he is in charge,” Democratic convention CEO Joe Solmonese said. “And Joe Biden was born to be in charge.”
Democrats are asking the nearly 5,000 voting delegates to participate in Biden’s nomination from home, removing the core audience from the convention hall. The number of media allowed to attend the event in person, 20,000 in a typical year, is also expected to fall dramatically. Official reception parties for delegates, the press and volunteers have been canceled, and all the official business of the convention, including votes on the party’s platform and the nominees, will be handled remotely.
But Democrats have not given up on producing a traditional televised spectacle on Aug. 17 to 20, with a goal of claiming wall-to-wall cable news coverage, significant social media attention and at least an hour of broadcast television programming each night, organizers said. Without a large crowd, that format will shift to include pre-produced video and live broadcasts from satellite locations, such as cities and landmarks across the country.
“The city of Milwaukee has been an incredible partner and we are committed to highlighting Wisconsin as a key battleground state at our convention this August,” Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon said in a statement. “This will be a convention for all Americans who wish to join our mission to win the battle for the soul of this nation and build a fairer, more united country for us all.”
Organizers have yet to determine how many people will fill the modified convention floor in Milwaukee and the satellite locations, where other convention speakers will appear. Those decisions will be made closer to the event date based on the recommendations of public health experts, including two epidemiologists and infectious-disease specialists hired by the campaign.
“That’s really the next step for us,” Solmonese said. “With a limited capacity, how do we ensure that those that are able to come represent the diversity of the Democratic Party and are reflective of the things you will see from the stage?”
Solmonese said there had also been no decision on whether the traditional balloon drop and confetti explosion would mark Biden’s nomination. The event will be produced by Ricky Kirshner, the Emmy-winning executive producer of the Tony Awards and the Super Bowl halftime show.
“Leadership means being able to adapt to any situation,” said Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez in a statement. “That’s exactly what we’ve done with our convention.”
Republicans, by contrast, are aiming to create a typical convention experience, both for attendees and for the president. The party recently relocated the celebratory events to Jacksonville, Fla., after North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) refused to give assurances that a mass gathering would be allowed at the end of August in Charlotte.
Under current plans, about 300 Republican officials will gather in Charlotte on the weekend between the Democratic and Republican events to cast the formal votes necessary to convene a convention and renominate Trump and Vice President Pence, according to GOP officials. That work, which will not include an appearance by Trump, will be finished on Aug. 24, setting the stage for at least three nights of events in the Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena, a sports facility that fits about 15,000.
Republicans have said they do not expect masks to be required by attendees and do not expect to enforce social distancing inside the arena.
Local GOP officials, who are in the process of recruiting 10,000 volunteers to staff the event, have been mocking the caution of the Biden campaign and the Democratic Party.
“They are having what they call a virtual convention and I call a webinar,” Duval County GOP chairman Dean Black said Monday. “It will be Joe Biden in his basement conducting a webinar.”
But Democrats believe the contrast will play to their benefit.
“The juxtaposition between these two conventions is pretty fascinating at this point, and reflective of the type of leadership you have running on our side and in the White House on the other side,” Democratic convention communications director Katie Peters said.
Since Republicans announced the move to Jacksonville, there has been a spike in the number of positive coronavirus test results in the area, as social distancing guidelines have been eased and businesses have reopened.
Duval County has averaged 180 new cases a day over the seven days ending Tuesday, compared with 45 cases a day the previous week. The number of coronavirus-like illnesses reported at emergency departments in the county has also reached new heights after weeks of flattening, according to state health data.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry (R) pleaded Monday with his residents to practice basic safeguards that Republican convention organizers have said they do not expect to adopt for their own event.
“Please wear a mask when you are in populated places, dense places, particularly indoors when you can’t practice social distancing,” Curry said. “Stay out of crowded places where you are shoulder to shoulder with people for extended periods of time.”
He said the same guidance could be in place in August for the Republican event, but that the decision would be dependent on the medical data. “We still have quite a bit of time before we arrive at the event,” Curry said. “Whatever public health precautions need to be taken then, given the environment we are in, will be taken.”
Mike Reed, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said the Republican convention will work closely with local and national authorities, and is ready to shift plans to meet the health situation.
“There will be safety precautions in place that will be adapted based on the situation at the time of the event,” Reed said. “These include but are not limited to temperature checks, available PPE, aggressive sanitizing protocols, available covid-19 testing and regular phone calls and coordination with federal, state and local health officials.”