MILWAUKEE -- The coronavirus pandemic is forcing Democrats and Republicans to take a close look at whether they'll be able to move forward as planned this summer with conventions that typically kick off the general election season. The Democratic National Convention is scheduled for July 13-16 in Milwaukee.
In an interview with MSNBC this week, prospective Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said it’s “hard to envision” a normal convention in Milwaukee. But the former vice president also noted on “The 11th Hour with Brian Williams” that Democrats “have more time” to figure things out as party officials consider contingencies that could range from delaying the convention to making parts of the proceedings virtual so that not as many people attend.
“We were able to do it in the middle of a Civil War all the way through to World War II, have Democratic and Republican conventions and primaries and elections and still have public safety,” Biden said. “We’re able to do both.”
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who serves on the Milwaukee 2020 Host Committee, said he couldn't speculate Wednesday, April 1 on how the four-day convention, expected to draw 50,000, could change.
"I don't think it's going to be exactly what we want it to be," said Mayor Barrett. "I think that's pretty obvious right now. The world has changed dramatically in the last several months. We have to be resilient, just like everyone has to be resilient."
Mayor Barrett said there's no need to make any rash decisions. He said although little is certain when it comes to hosting a convention during a pandemic, he's confident Milwaukee's role won't change.
"I know two things for certain, one is the Democrats are going to nominate a candidate, and second, I believe that candidate will be nominated in Milwaukee," said Barrett.
Republicans, meanwhile, are expressing confidence they can pull off their convention as scheduled in August, but party Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel still allows for the possibility that the pandemic could upend GOP plans.
Neither Democratic nor Republican leaders want to sacrifice the boost that can result from an enthusiastic convention gathering. President Donald Trump thrives on big rallies and has obviously missed that part of his routine amid the coronavirus outbreak, reluctantly turning the Rose Garden and the White House briefing room into a substitute. A traditional convention, with a nationally televised nomination acceptance speech, could be even more critical for Biden, who has been relegated recently to remote television interviews from his Delaware home, unable to draw the kind of spotlight that a sitting president commands.
Democratic National Committee authorities based in Milwaukee are exploring various options should social distancing recommendations still be in effect in the summer months. Convention CEO Joe Solmonese hasn’t publicly detailed any specifics, promising only that “we will balance protecting the health and well-being of convention attendees and our host city with our responsibility to deliver this historic and critical occasion.”
Solmonese issued this statement to FOX6 News:
"These challenging times require us to be deeply thoughtful about the important and unprecedented moment in which we’re living. Providing an opportunity for our candidate to reaffirm our democratic values, unify the party and share his vision for a safer and stronger future for our country has never before felt more important. As we continue to put plans in place for a successful Democratic National Convention this summer, we will balance protecting the health and well-being of convention attendees and our host city with our responsibility to deliver this historic and critical occasion.”
Democrats originally scheduled their convention ahead of the Summer Olympics. But the international games have been postponed until 2021, opening several weeks on the summer television calendar if they could logistically manage a delay. Tradition dictates that Democrats, as the party out of power, hold their convention first. Republicans are scheduled to gather Aug. 24-27 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Solmonese and his aides are expected in coming weeks to present party Chairman Tom Perez with options. But Democrats’ lingering nominating contest could complicate what happens next. Biden holds a prohibitive delegate lead that makes him the prospective nominee, but Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders remains in the race and insists he has a “narrow” path to the nomination.
With many states pushing back their primaries, Sanders potentially could block Biden from accruing the required delegate majority until late June, just weeks before the convention.
In a typical election, the convention effectively belongs to the nominee, so Perez would be reluctant to make substantial changes to the model without the candidate’s approval. But he’s also cognizant of Sanders supporters who still distrust DNC leadership after the bitter 2016 nominating fight that Sanders lost to Hillary Clinton.
The bottom line, Biden said, is that “we should listen to the scientists” and that the 2020 election, from conventions to voting methods, “may have to be different.”
Republicans don’t face the internal party uncertainty, though they still must weigh the same public health scenarios.
McDaniel, the RNC chairwoman, said she thinks “we should be out of this” by the end of August. In an interview, she said Republicans already have raised the money necessary for the convention and have the staff hired and in place.
“We’re ready to go,” she said. “This isn’t something that’s going to stop us.”
Still, she added a caveat: “Obviously, science will dictate that.”
Other aspects of the presidential campaign, meanwhile, continue unabated by the pandemic.
America First Action PAC, a Republican super political action committee backing Trump’s reelection, announced a $10 million ad buy that will start in mid-April and continue throughout May in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. The digital, television and direct mail investment is the PAC’s first spending against Biden, and it comes in key markets in the three states that provided Trump with his Electoral College margin in 2016.
Priorities USA, the largest Democratic super PAC, responded by adding $1 million to existing ad buys in that crucial trio of states.