As the coronavirus has increasingly injected fear and uncertainty into the Democratic primary, prompting cancellations and postponements well into the summer, the Democratic National Committee has left its state-based members largely in the dark about what will become of the Milwaukee convention.
The last call occurred weeks ago, according to three DNC officials familiar with the matter, well before the outbreak became top of mind for the nation’s leaders. Now, those Democratic officials—including two state party chairs who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on behalf of the national committee—said the lack of communication has left them out of the loop about broader national planning discussions pertaining to the pandemic’s potential impact on the marquee event.
“It’s fucking crazy,” said one committee member who has been with the DNC for decades. “The DNC messaging that’s coming to the DNC members is no different than what’s going out to the general public. When they talk about the convention, it’s what we thought would happen before this shit the fan.”
The Democratic National Committee has said publicly that, at this point, there is no plan to cancel or hold a virtual convention for the Wisconsin fete for the eventual nominee, which is scheduled to take place from July 13 to 16. Spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa said that they are “in constant touch with state parties” and that “bulk of the communication has been about delegate selection to the convention” and how the virus is impacting elections unfolding in real time.
On Tuesday, Florida, Arizona, and Illinois proceeded with their primaries, while in Ohio, which was previously scheduled to take place on the same day, a last-minute move by the governor to close the polls and move back the election caused mass confusion.
“What happened in Ohio last night has only bred more chaos and confusion, and the Democratic Party leadership in Ohio is working tirelessly to protect the right to vote,” DNC Chairman Tom Perez wrote in an email Tuesday evening, “urging the remaining primary states to protect the health of voters, while protecting the right to vote by implementing a variety of other mechanisms like vote by mail.”
That email, which went out to Democratic committee members at 5:44 p.m., was identical to the press release disseminated to the public.
The sense of frustration—that members who are tasked with getting information to voters on the ground have received the same information, at the same time, as the general public—was picked up in multiple conversations with The Daily Beast. And as the nature of the news around the coronavirus changes daily, some expressed a desire for more information from the DNC about the convention, including from Perez directly.
“We haven’t had a meeting in two weeks,” one state party chair said, referring to the lack of a specific call to address convention preparations during the pandemic. “Tom has had no communication with his officers on this. There has been no call put together with the DNC membership.” (Hinojosa said the convention has come up as a topic in several calls).
“That’s the kind of shit that’s really distressing,” the chair added bluntly.
A second party chair said “from my perspective, I haven’t had any communication” from the national headquarters about the convention in the past several weeks, but added it wouldn’t necessarily change the sense of chaos. “I haven’t received any word not to continue to plan, I’m proceeding as if everything will continue to happen,” the chair added.
“I don’t have the time or the luxury to do worst case or best case scenarios,” the party chair continued. “Even if they decide to cancel, I’ve got something in place.”
Democratic National Convention Committee CEO Joe Solmonese released a statement on March 12 addressing the issue publicly. “While we continue to closely monitor this fluid situation, the Democratic National Convention Committee will remain focused on planning a safe and successful convention in Milwaukee four months from now,” he wrote.
Solmonese added that “as we prepare these plans, we will remain in constant communication with the local, state, and federal officials responsible for protecting public health and security—and will continue to follow their guidance as we move forward.”
Meanwhile, “the convention team is in touch with Secret Service and health officials, as are Republicans, and we will continue to be,” Hinojosa said. “The convention team has sent guidance out widely and on their social channels, and the DNC has communicated this to a wide array of stakeholders, including a stakeholder call that happened this last Monday. We have also sent updates regarding coronavirus and the impact on elections to state parties and the full DNC membership.”
“There are regular calls with state party leadership, and on the most recent call they discussed postponing the ASDC convention walk-through scheduled for next month given the uncertainty," she added.
The statement from the DNCC, and echoed by the DNC, has done little to assuage concerns among some state party officials internally, who projected that a convention scheduled to take place in just four months could face unforeseen challenges in the midst of a global public health crisis. And if changes need to be made, two officials said they’d likely find out along with the general public, with little time to prepare at the state level.
“They should be providing guidance about what happens if there’s not a national convention,” the first state party chair said.
The longtime committee member said the sense of anxiety among some party officials stems from a desire to get the process right, and that over-communicating could go a long way during a national emergency.
“I’m not angry, I am concerned,” the source said. “As a member, I wish I had more information to be able to say I feel confident going forward. Maybe there’s stuff going on but we just don’t know about it.”