American voters will be offered competing political visions Monday when former first lady Michelle Obama addresses the now-virtual Democratic National Convention set to anoint Joe Biden, and President Donald Trump delivers a speech in battleground Wisconsin.
But the deadly coronavirus pandemic upended all aspects of life including presidential campaigning and the convention now is occurring almost entirely online — as is the Republican event, which begins on August 24.
Biden sought to downplay the awkwardness of an American political ritual being held without the usual roaring crowds, in-person delegate count and falling confetti.
“We may be physically apart, but this week Democrats are coming together from across the nation to put forth our vision for a better America,” the Democratic veteran tweeted as he encouraged voters to tune in Monday night.
Trump, not to be outdone — and essentially ignoring the pandemic’s threat — flew Monday to the Midwest for two speeches including one in Oshkosh, Wisconsin about a 90-minute drive north of the Milwaukee arena where Democrats had intended to gather.
“I know all of these people very well, I beat them all last time,” Trump told Fox News about the Democrats addressing the convention, including both Obamas, 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton and erstwhile Biden rival Bernie Sanders.
“They can’t unite,” Trump said.
The declaration was a clear dig at Democratic Party factions aiming to project a unified front behind Biden and a common determination to oust Trump in the November 3 election.
The convention takes place amid a furor over Trump’s efforts to limit mail-in voting.
The president, insisting without proof that mail-in voting fosters fraud, has threatened to block extra funding that Democrats say is urgently needed to allow the US Postal Service to process millions of ballots.
Democratic Party chairman Tom Perez said the convention will push back against the president’s “assault on our democracy” by highlighting efforts to protect voting by mail.
“This president can’t win on the merits and so he has to cheat. And it’s shameful,” Perez told a Washington Post webcast.
Planners meanwhile have been struggling to find virtual replacements for the usual circus-like atmosphere of a convention.
The experimental format will allow speakers to address American voters unfiltered — largely shorn of the usual overwrought stagecraft and screaming delegates.
Perez insisted the “sober moment” in US history meant Democrats need to show the election is about leadership and “trust” during the pandemic that has killed 170,000 Americans and outrage over police brutality and racism.
“We need a steady hand at the tiller. That’s Joe Biden, and that’s Kamala Harris,” Perez said.
Biden enters the convention with significant but tightening poll leads over Trump, and hoping his pick of Harris — the first woman of color on a major party’s presidential ticket — is widely popular among Democrats.
Harris, a senator, former prosecutor and the daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants, is 55 and brings relatively youthful energy to bolster the 77-year-old Biden.
Monday’s top speakers will be Sanders, a leader of the party’s progressive wing, and Michelle Obama.
At the 2016 convention that nominated Clinton, she memorably told Democrats: “Our motto is, when they go low, we go high.”
Four years later, amid a steadily coarsening political culture led by Trump’s take-no-prisoners style, Obama’s speech will be carefully watched.
Tuesday will see speeches from former president Bill Clinton and Jill Biden, the nominee’s wife.
On Wednesday Barack Obama will speak, and Harris will have her spotlight moment before the convention culminates Thursday when Biden formally accepts the Democratic nomination and delivers his acceptance speech via videolink
Trump’s efforts to steal the show include delivering a speech near Scranton, Pennsylvania — the blue-collar town where Biden grew up — to coincide with the biggest moment in Biden’s political life.