WILMINGTON, Del. — The Democrats’ historic boundary breakers are joining forces at the party’s national convention in an urgent effort to rouse the diverse coalition Joe Biden will need to defeat President Donald Trump this fall.
Their overriding message: Vote this time; don’t just be sorry and complain later.
Barack Obama, the nation’s first Black president, and Hillary Clinton, the first woman nominated for president by a major party, are speaking on Biden’s behalf Wednesday night. And Kamala Harris, Biden’s running mate and the first Black woman on a major party ticket, will deliver highly anticipated remarks that will serve as her first introduction to millions of voters.
American democracy might not survive another four years of Trump, Obama warns in excerpts released in advance. He urges voters to “embrace your own responsibility as citizens — to make sure that the basic tenets of our democracy endure. Because that’s what is at stake right now. Our democracy.”
In remarks remarkable for their dismissiveness of a U.S. president by his predecessor, Obama declares, “Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t.”
Clinton looks back at her 2016 loss to Trump and says that by now it must be clear that American lives and livelihoods are at risk,.
“For four years, people have said to me, ‘I didn’t realize how dangerous he was.’ ‘I wish I could go back and do it over.’ Or worst, ‘I should have voted,’” she says. “Well, this can’t be another woulda coulda shoulda election.”
Just 76 days before the election, voters in both parties are as engaged as they have ever been, even while battling the coronavirus pandemic that has left more than 172,000 dead and millions more out of work. Having formally been nominated by their party, the Biden-Harris ticket is now the Democrats’ best and only hope to deny Trump a second term.
The pandemic has forced Biden’s team to abandon the traditional convention format in favor of an all-virtual affair that has eliminated much of the pomp and circumstance that typically defines political conventions. It’s also produced opportunities to create new traditions.
On Tuesday night, Biden celebrated his formal nomination in a school library with his family. Instead of a Milwaukee convention hall as initially planned, the roll call of convention delegates played out in a combination of live and recorded video feeds from American landmarks packed with meaning: Alabama’s Edmund Pettus Bridge, the headwaters of the Mississippi River and Washington’s Black Lives Matter Plaza.
The Democratic convention will build to a finale Thursday night when Biden will deliver his acceptance speech in a mostly empty convention hall near his Delaware home.
Next week it’s Trump’s turn.
The president, who abandoned plans to host his convention in North Carolina and Florida, is expected to break tradition and accept his nomination from the White House lawn.
Trump has spent much of this week hosting campaign events in battleground states in an attempt to distract from the Democrats’ virtual festivities. While there was no travel on Wednesday, Trump on Tuesday claimed that a Biden presidency would trigger “a flood of illegal immigration like the world has never seen” during an Arizona appearance near the Mexican border.
Such divisive rhetoric, which is not supported by Biden’s positions, has become a hallmark of Trump’s presidency, which has inflamed tensions at home and alienated allies around the world.
Still, Biden’s team acknowledges that the Biden-Harris ticket must do more than promise a return to normalcy.
In her prepared remarks, Harris says the nation is at a critical point struggling under Trump’s “chaos,” “incompetence”and “callousness.”
“We can do better and deserve so much more,” Harris says. “We must elect a president who will bring something different, something better, and do the important work. A president who will bring all of us together—Black, White, Latino, Asian, Indigenous—to achieve the future we collectively want.”
Obama, who remains perhaps the biggest star in the Democratic Party, is delivering a live address ahead of Harris, from the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia
He hopes to serve as a bridge between those reassured by Biden’s lengthy resume and more moderate record, and a younger generation of Democrats agitating for more dramatic change.
Obama confidants say that the former president’s support for Biden is unequivocal, but he does worry about enthusiasm among younger voters, particularly younger voters of color. Democrats concede that one of the reasons Trump won the presidency in 2016 was because those voters didn’t show up in the same large numbers as when Obama was on the ballot.
In excerpts of his remarks, Obama calls Biden his “brother.” He also savages the Trump presidency in a rare public rebuke from one president to his successor.
“I have sat in the Oval Office with both of the men who are running for president,” Obama says. “I never expected that my successor would embrace my vision or continue my policies. I did hope, for the sake of our country, that Donald Trump might show some interest in taking the job seriously; that he might come to feel the weight of the office and discover some reverence for the democracy that had been placed in his care.”
The first two days of the convention have featured a diverse lineup, although Biden’s team has largely showcased the more moderate wing of his party — and even a half dozen Republicans such as former Secretary of State Colin Powell and former Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel said on Fox News Channel on Wednesday she wasn’t concerned, adding that Powell “hasn’t been a Republican since the early 2000s.”
“This isn’t surprising,” McDaniel said. “This group of Never Trumpers has left the Republican party.”
It remains to be seen whether the unconventional convention will give Biden the momentum he’s looking for.
Preliminary estimates show that television viewership for the first night of the virtual convention was down compared with the opening of Hillary Clinton’s onsite nominating party four years ago.
An estimated 18.7 million people watched coverage between 10 and 11 p.m. on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC, the Nielsen company said. Four years ago, the opening night drew just under 26 million viewers.
Biden’s campaign said an additional 10.2 million streamed the convention online Monday night.
Price reported from Las Vegas and Peoples from New York. AP Washington Bureau Chief Julie Pace contributed to this report.