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Joe Biden’s wacky, virtual Democratic convention

The control room for the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee -- which contains some of the few people actually at the event - Morry Gash / ©AFP
The control room for the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee -- which contains some of the few people actually at the event - Morry Gash / ©AFP


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.

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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.

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 AFP.

– ‘Zero energy’ –

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.

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.”

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.

Elodie Cuzin with Ivan Couronne in Washington

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