The Democratic National Convention has a distinctly different feel this year, with the coronavirus pandemic pushing it to a virtual affair that lacks raucous crowds, behind-the-scenes dealmaking and the general pizzazz of a political celebration.
It also is taking on a somber tone, with both Democratic leaders and Americans from around the country warning about what they see as the dangers of Donald Trump and the lack of leadership as Covid-19 has ravaged the United States.
Big questions loom over the four-day event: Will Joe Biden get a convention bump in the polls? Will the Democratic Party anoint a new rising star? How will Kamala Harris handle her big moment? Will Trump try to stomp on the event?
Here are key moments from the first night.
Michelle Obama: ‘Going high is the only thing that works’
Michelle Obama delivered an impassioned plea for a Biden presidency, slamming Trump as a president out of his depth and urging Americans to rise above the politics of division.
Wearing a necklace spelling “V-O-T-E,” the former first lady urged Americans to cast a ballot, via mail or in person, for Biden “like our lives depend on it.”
In a speech that largely avoided mentioning the incumbent by name, Obama labeled Trump as the wrong president for the country.
“He has had more than enough time to prove that he can do the job, but he is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet this moment,” Obama said with an air of resignation. “He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us. It is what it is.”
“Going high is the only thing that works,” Obama said in a reprisal of her trademark, “When they go low, we go high” mantra of 2016.
George Floyd’s family makes a surprise appearance
The opening night featured a moment of silence for George Floyd, the Black man killed by Minneapolis police in May, delivered by his brother Philonise. Philonise Floyd commended the nationwide protests against racial injustice as a fitting tribute for his late brother and listed the names of other Black Americans killed by police.
“For the names we do not know, the faces we’ll never see, those who can’t mourn because their murders didn’t go viral, please join me in a moment of silence to honor George and the many other souls we lost to hate and injustice,” Philonise Floyd said. “And when this moment ends, let’s make sure we never stop saying their names.”
D.C. Mayor Muriel Boswer introduced Philonise and his brother Rodney while standing at a balcony overlooking the newly minted “Black Lives Matter Plaza” — just blocks from the White House.
‘We can’t just paint those words behind me, we can’t just say those words. We have to live those words,” Bowser said. “We have to undo the laws and systems that have codified racism for far too long.”
Cuomo: America’s division created Trump
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo slammed Trump for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and his failure to unite the nation.
“Only a strong body can fight off the virus. And America’s divisions weakened it,” Cuomo said. “Donald Trump didn’t create the initial division. The division created Trump.”
Cuomo, who saw his national stock rise during the pandemic thanks to his frequent press conferences and aggressive measures to combat the outbreak, said the Trump administration’s incompetence led to its weak virus defense.
“Now we need a leader as good as our people, a leader who appeals to the best within us, not the worst, a leader who can unify, not divide, a leader who can bring us up, not tear us down,” Cuomo said. “That man is Joe Biden.”
Biden says most cops are good
During a brief panel that focused on police violence, Biden said that “most cops are good. The fact is that the bad ones have to be identified, prosecuted and out, period.”
The message is a stark contrast from the repeated calls from Trump’s camp that Biden is out to “defund the police” and from the anti-police chants that have been ringing at protests in cities across the country. Biden told reporters in July that he didn’t agree with defunding police departments, but that officers needed to “meet minimum basic standards of decency.”
Biden has called for reform among police-community relations, and asked the panelists about the best course to do so. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot pressed the need for economic opportunity in struggling communities, and Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo suggested a national ban on chokeholds.
‘His only pre-existing condition was trusting Donald Trump’
Kristin Urquiza’s father voted for and supported Trump. But she said Trump’s coronavirus response was why her father is dead.
“His only pre-existing condition was trusting Donald Trump, and for that, he paid with his life,” Urquiza said.
Urquiza, who had gone viral for a blistering obituary condemning elected officials’ coronavirus response, blasted Trump for his management of the crisis during a brief DNC appearance. She lay into the inequalities in care that particularly impact communities of color. She contrasted Trump and Biden, saying Trump has refused to heed the advice of health experts and has exacerbated the pandemic.
Urquiza said her father regretted voting for Trump as he died and dedicated her vote for Biden to him.
“The coronavirus has made it clear that there are two Americas: The America that Donald Trump lives in and the America that my father died in.”
Republicans make pitch for Biden
John Kasich, the former Ohio governor and one of Trump’s primary challengers back in 2016, stood at a literal crossroads as he talked about his choice to vote for Biden, despite being a longstanding Republican.
“I’m a lifelong Republican, but that attachment holds second place to my responsibility to my country,’ he said. “That’s why I have chosen to appear at this convention. In normal times, something like this would probably never happen. But these are not normal times.”
Kasich was the first person to run for president and then speak at the opposing party’s convention four years later since former Sen. Joe Lieberman spoke on behalf of Republican nominee John McCain in 2008.
During his short speech, Kasich emphasized Biden’s reputation as a moderate Democrat. “I’m sure there are Republicans and independents who couldn’t imagine crossing over to support a Democrat. They fear Joe may turn sharp left and leave them behind. I don’t believe that because I know the measure of the man,” he said.
Kasich was joined with other lifelong Republicans, including former Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman, former New York Rep. Susan Molinari and former New Jersey Gov. Christine Whitman, who has been a vocal critic of Trump and supported Kasich during the 2016 GOP primaries.
Cortez Masto: Trump is trying to take away the vote
Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto called out Trump for denigrating mail-in voting, pointing out how the president himself has requested absentee ballots twice this year.
Cortez Masto’s home state of Nevada became the subject of Trump’s ridicule when it moved to expand mail-in voting amid the coronavirus pandemic. She blasted Trump for trying to undermine those efforts in court and by cutting down on postal services.
“My home state took the advice of scientists and medical experts and listened to the people of Nevada to put in place a vote-by-mail system so voters have a lot of options this fall,” she said. “But Donald Trump is trying to divide us by undermining that right.”
Trump and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy have faced fierce criticism for changes to the U.S. Postal Service that they have cast as cost-saving measures but that have led to serious delays. A group of voters filed a lawsuit Monday against DeJoy and Trump, accusing them of conspiring to undermine the election by gutting mail services.
Former Democratic rivals praise Biden
The Democratic field saw fierce confrontations this election cycle as candidates fought for the nomination. But those conflicts were nowhere to be found at the party’s convention.
A consortium of Biden’s former Democratic rivals popped into the convention for a montage praising the candidate as the future of the party. Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, Kirsten Gillibrand and a number of other former candidates spoke about their time on the grueling campaign trail, including their interactions with Biden. They all portrayed Biden as a candidate of strong character who reached out to them as a friend, in spite of the stiff competition for the nomination.
Booker brought up a special moment from the debate stage: “What was remarkable to me was in the commercial break he puts his arm around me and starts telling me how good my ideas are,” he said. “And next thing you know, I feel like he’s giving me a pep talk and literally telling me how important it is, how really important it is that I’m on that stage.”
Andrew Yang was among the candidates to praise Biden, though he had previously expressed disappointment at not being on the speakers list for the convention.
“Joe called me the night I suspended and was extraordinarily gracious and comforting, and he told me I should be proud of myself,” he said. “Said that I did myself and my family a real service and the country a service.”
Bernie puts aside policy differences to back Biden
Biden’s biggest primary rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), painted Trump as an authoritarian threat to the United States and urged his supporters to elect Biden.
“The future of our democracy is at stake. The future of our economy is at stake. The future of our planet is at stake,” Sanders said. “My friends, the price of failure is just too great to imagine.”
In a rare mention of policy detail during the night, the Vermont senator noted he and Biden diverge on how to provide every American with healthcare — the defining issue of the primary campaign. But in a sign of unity, Sanders said that Biden’s plan would nevertheless expand coverage, lower prescription drug prices, and enroll more Americans into Medicare.