Already planning a scaled-down convention because of the coronavirus, Democratic Party officials are brainstorming ways to maintain some of the familiar pomp and circumstance that comes with nominating their presidential candidate. Among those ideas being considered are to have small complimentary gatherings in other states as well as made-for-television programming featuring video addresses and musical guests.
Those ideas are some of several that executives on the planning committee and aides to Joe Biden’s campaign have bandied about in recent weeks. And while no formal decisions have been made, at least one conclusion has fully been reached: the party won’t abandon political entertainment even if there will be no massive gathering in Milwaukee.
Democratic National Committee and convention officials have begun approaching state party chairs to encourage them to gauge from their delegates the level of comfort and interest in attending the convention in person. One idea being floated is to have up to 20 percent of each state’s delegation represented in person, or to try and cap the total number of people who come to the Aug. 17 event, according to two sources familiar with the internal discussions.
In that scenario, select members of the state delegations, elected officials, and party bigwigs who want to attend would do so. But they would likely be required to stay within close, if not walkable, distance to the convention site, instead of having to travel far distances on transportation. The DNC is expected to send out a survey to state parties in the coming days to assess who in each delegation would be open to attending in person.
Those who do not want to attend may have other options for participation, as the party is considering satellite convention sites that would allow Democrats to gather with one another in other states in ways compliant with best public health practices. Under this scenario, the actual act of nominating Biden will almost certainly take place by some combination of in-person and proxy vote. But instead of axing the rest of the convention, including the prime-time addresses and entertainment, the planning committee would program it, either with pre-recorded material or by broadcasting it from remote locations.
Veteran television producer Ricky Kirshner, who has produced the Super Bowl Pregame and Halftime Show along with every Democratic convention since Bill Clinton’s first, is heading this year’s event. And his background in television is considered an asset for the novel task of hosting a convention through an increasingly virtual medium.
Reached for comment, Katie Peters, the communications director for the Democratic National Convention, said: “At this point no decisions have been made. Protecting public health and ensuring a safe event remain our top priorities. As we adjust our plans for the convention this summer, we’ll continue to follow the guidance of local, state, and federal public health officials.”
The contingency planning among Democrats comes as President Trump and the Republican Party have moved in the opposite direction, vowing to push forward with new plans to host the Republican National Convention in Jacksonville, Florida, after feuding with the governor of North Carolina over his unwillingness to loosen social distancing restrictions during the pandemic.
On Wednesday, DNC Chairman Tom Perez seemed to affirm that the party would host a more modest version of the event, while reiterating earlier remarks that he still intends to hold at least some portion of it in person.
In comments to reporters in Milwaukee, Perez vowed to “follow the science” and “not abandon” the city “when we descend on Milwaukee to celebrate our party, to have a safe and effective convention where we will highlight Joe Biden and his historic choice as a running mate.”
A source briefed on the planning pointed to those comments as a way to read between the lines of a downsized event, but added that the nature of the situation is fluid and could still change. Perez acknowledged that reality too, but emphasized that he’s “confident” that the physical convention will still go on in the city.