Democrats, Biden still juggling virtual convention details

Joe Biden’s presidential nominating convention will highlight the U.S. political spectrum from the left flank of New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to the Republican old guard of former Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

But that doesn’t mean there’s room for every prominent Democrat who would get a share of the spotlight at what would have been a traditional convention in Milwaukee before the COVID-19 pandemic made that impossible. Instead, Biden’s campaign and other convention planners are continuing negotiations with various power players over how to produce a truncated virtual convention with just eight hours of programming over four nights from Aug. 17-20.

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Still unsettled, according to convention organizers, is who gets to speak live and who must be taped. The virtual production is slated for 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. EDT each night, leaving Biden and his aides an unusually narrow window to satisfy a range of egos within the party while trying to project a cohesive message to voters ahead of his general election campaign against President Donald Trump.

Time slots became even more finite Monday when the Democratic National Committee confirmed the inclusion of rank-and-file voters from around the country. They range from a Pennsylvania farmer who voted for Trump in 2016 to a pastor from Reno, Nevada, a public transit bus driver from Atlanta and a union auto worker from Michigan.

Those voters will join several party luminaries: former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton and former first lady Michelle Obama. All will speak separately, according to Democrats with knowledge of the schedule. At least three of Biden’s former 2020 primary rivals will be featured: California Sen. Kamala Harris, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

But that leaves only so much time for the rest of the party bench — other failed 2020 candidates, sitting governors, congressional leaders -– who at a normal convention would at least be guaranteed to take the stage during each night's early prime time hours.

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“We had two goals in mind: to include more Americans than ever before, and to ensure that all Americans see themselves reflected in what they were viewing,” said Stephanie Cutter, a veteran Democratic strategist who is directing the program lineup for Biden.

A spot could open later this week should Biden tap Harris or Warren as his running mate. The vice-presidential nominee is slated to speak Wednesday night.

The roll call, when Biden will be nominated officially, is slated for 30 minutes on Tuesday night, with video featuring all 50 states and seven territorial delegations.

Many other details remain up in the air, organizers said, from specific time slots to how many speakers will be allowed to speak live. Biden is expected to speak live from his home state of Delaware, but advisers have not disclosed a venue.

Live addresses involve potential technical difficulties, and they also introduce unpredictable time elements should a speaker go over his or her allotted time. That’s a common bug at traditional conventions, when dozens of politicians take an arena stage for hours of programming each evening.

It becomes less manageable, organizers said, with a hybrid production of live and recorded material like what Democrats are attempting to produce. They compared it to recent virtual productions of the NFL Draft, which was a live broadcast that incorporated tape delayed feeds, and former NBA star LeBron James’ national high school graduation bonanza, which was taped.

There had been a question over whether Ocasio-Cortez, a high-profile House freshman, would get a convention slot. A favorite of young progressives, she endorsed Sanders in the primary and has been a harsh critic of the Democratic establishment where Biden has spent his nearly five decades in national politics. But Biden has sought to reach out to progressives since he took control of the nominating contest over Sanders and others in early March; Ocasio-Cortez was a prominent leader in a policy task force that Biden and Sanders impaneled this spring to hash out details of the Democratic Party platform.

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Organizers would say only that Ocasio-Cortez will have a role in the convention lineup.

Some establishment Democrats had lobbied Biden's inner circle that progressives would have ample representation from Sanders and Warren, while adding Ocasio-Cortez would overshadow other young up-and-comers, including more moderate House freshmen.

Biden allies said the candidate wanted to feature the full breadth of the party and his supporters. They pointed to Kasich, who ran for the GOP nomination in 2016 and has remained a harsh Trump critic, and they noted that Biden's invitation to the former Ohio governor irked progressives perhaps more than including Ocasio-Cortez might bother some moderate Democrats.