America begins its first virtual presidential convention

Published August 18, 2020
The control room where live feeds are managed is in operation for the first night of the virtual DNC convention at the Wisconsin Centere on August 17, 2020 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. — AFP
The control room where live feeds are managed is in operation for the first night of the virtual DNC convention at the Wisconsin Centere on August 17, 2020 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. — AFP

WASHINGTON: The United States began its first ever virtual presidential convention on Monday as the Democratic Party launched this three-day national event from Mulwaukee, Wisconsin.

The Republicans will hold their own virtual convention on Aug 24-27, from various locations. Traditionally, the incumbents hold their meeting after the challengers.

At the convention, party delegates choose their nominees for president and vice president. The conventions are held well ahead of the election to give the nominees enough time to reach out to their voters.

But the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has already killed almost 170,000 Americans, forced both parties to reduce the campaign time to little over two months. The election is scheduled on Nov 3, 2020.

Originally, Democrats planned to hold a large convention on July 13–16 but curtailed the program and moved it to August 17–20. They also changed the venue from the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee to a much smaller location, the city’s Wisconsin Center.

The Republicans too had planned a traditional large-scale convention at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina on June 2. But they cancelled their plan after the state’s governor rejected President Trump’s demand for a full-crowd meeting without Covid-19 restrictions.

Trump then announced a new venue, Jacksonville, Florida, but that too was cancelled when coronavirus cases in the state began to soar.

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee for 2020 is former Vice President Joe Biden who last week selected California Senator Kamala Harris as his vice-presidential running mate. The Republicans are expected to re-nominate Donald Trump for president and Mike Pence for vice president.

Even before the epidemic, national conventions had become glorified television events, enabling candidates to seek votes without physically visiting the voters. But the pandemic has further intensified the electronic influence on this political event.

Normally, election campaigns reach a feverish pitch by August, but the coronavirus has prevented both parties from doing so. There have been almost no large meetings or door-to-door contacts. Even posters, placards and banners are scarce.

Instead, candidates and other party leaders are focusing on the electronic media, particularly the internet, to seek votes and explain their party platforms, i.e. manifestos.

The New York Times reported on Sunday that the slimmed-down Democratic convention will also “be a mix of live and pre-recorded speeches and highly produced visual elements.”

The report noted that while Milwaukee is the official site, it will be a “virtual convention” as “no official business” will be conducted in the city.

CNN reported that the Democratic convention will feature hundreds of live feeds from across the country and four stage set-ups in New York City, Los Angeles, Milwaukee and Wilmington, Delaware, Biden’s home state,

“The entirely virtual convention will feature emcees to lead the evening’s two-hour program, with those people broadcasting primarily out of the Los Angeles studio,” the report added.

“Additionally, there will be live speakers from across the country every night broadcasting from historic and symbolic locations which will thematically reinforce their remarks.”

Published in Dawn, August 18th, 2020

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