Democrats will formally nominate Joe Biden for president during the second night of the party’s national convention on Tuesday, elevating a historic ticket that includes his vice-presidential running mate Kamala Harris, who is the first black woman to be nominated for national office by a major party.
After searing indictments of Donald Trump’s presidency from Michelle Obama and Bernie Sanders on Monday’s opening night, the quadrennial affair – abbreviated and made virtual as a result of the coronavirus pandemic – will continue with more live-streamed speeches, pre-taped montages and celebrity performances.
And a roll call of the states, reimagined for the Covid-19 era, will officially make Biden the Democratic standard-bearer for the November election, the culmination of a quest that began in 1988, when he first ran for president.
If the opening night was intended as a show of unity from unlikely political bedfellows aligned against the president, the speakers tonight will present the Democrats as a forward-looking, big-tent party that has always been at the vanguard of social progress.
Democrats hope to win over moderate Republicans and independents who are uncomfortable with Trump’s divisive leadership while energizing progressives who have yet to enthusiastically embrace their own nominee.
Tuesday evening will spotlight the stars of the party’s future – and some from its past.
Breaking with tradition, the evening will begin not with a single keynote speaker designated a Democratic rising star, but with 17. The mash-up of what the organizers called the “next generation of party leaders” is intended to reflect the racial and ideological diversity of a party increasingly led by women and people of color.
Among those who will speak are Stacey Abrams, the 2018 Democratic nominee for governor in Georgia who was considered a potential vice-presidential running mate; the Texas congressman Colin Allred, who flipped a Republican-held seat in 2018; Jonathan Nez, president of the Navajo Nation, and Robert Garcia, the mayor of Long Beach, California, who immigrated to the US from Peru as a child.
“This year, all of us are on stage,” they will say in synchronized remarks, each appearing in a Brady Bunch-style grid. “And we’ve got a lot to say.”
Though she will have just 60 seconds to speak, the inclusion of the progressive New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is a testament to her status as the leader of a new generation of party activists. By contrast, former president Bill Clinton, who has been a prominent figure at party conventions since before Ocasio-Cortez was born, will speak for less than five minutes – and many younger Democrats have expressed frustration that he was given any speaking time at all in the wake of the #MeToo movement, which prompted re-examinations of his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.
Clinton is expected to assail Trump’s leadership, accusing him of turning the Oval Office into a “storm center” marked by constant chaos.
“Just one thing never changes – his determination to deny responsibility and shift the blame,” Clinton will say. “The buck never stops there.”
Making the case for Biden, Clinton will say of the Democratic nominee: “Our party is united in offering you a very different choice: a go-to-work president. A down-to-earth, get-the-job-done guy. A man with a mission: to take responsibility, not shift the blame; concentrate, not distract; unite, not divide.”
Prominent elected officials, longtime friends and one-time rivals will play a symbolic role in the formal nominating process, which traditionally unfolds over the course of several hours of pageantry on the convention floor but on Tuesday will be abbreviated to a 30-minute, pre-taped montage from delegates in all 57 states and territories.
Sally Yates, the former acting attorney general who briefly oversaw the investigation into potential ties between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia, will also speak. Her career ended abruptly when Trump, just days into his presidency, fired her for refusing to defend an executive order banning travellers from seven Muslim-majority countries. In her defiance, Yates became a hero to what was then a nascent anti-Trump resistance.
“From the moment President Trump took office, he has used his position to benefit himself rather than our country,” Yates is expected to say. “He’s trampled the rule of law, trying to weaponize our justice department to attack his enemies and protect his friends.”
The Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, will remind viewers that Biden isn’t the only candidate on the ballot in November – and that the Senate also hangs in the balance. Once implausible, Democrats now have a path to taking back control of the chamber, as Trump drags down Republican incumbents in competitive Senate races from Arizona to Maine.
Capping the two-hour primetime event will be Jill Biden, Joe Biden’s wife and his most trusted adviser. A lifelong educator, Jill Biden is expected to assail Trump’s leadership on the coronavirus, which has forced many school districts to delay – or cancel – plans to reopen.
“You can hear the anxiety that echoes down empty hallways,” Biden is expected to say on Tuesday night, according to excerpts released ahead of the event. “There’s no scent of new notebooks or freshly waxed floors. The rooms are dark and the bright young faces that should fill them are confined to boxes on a computer screen.”
She is also expected to make the case that her husband is the right leader for the moment, highlighting his dedication to family, faith and public service.
“There are times when I couldn’t imagine how he did it – how he put one foot in front of the other and kept going,” she is expected to say, referring to Biden’s resilience after the loss of his first wife and daughter in a car crash in 1972, and his eldest son Beau, from brain cancer in 2015.
“But I’ve always understood why he did it,” she will say. “He does it for you.”