ATLANTA – Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden insists he can unify a fractured nation, and he'll test his theory with an unusual nominating convention intended to span the spectrum of U.S. politics.
The Democratic National Convention, a virtual production since the COVID-19 pandemic led party officials to cancel all in-person plans in Milwaukee, will feature presenters from progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Republican John Kasich, a former Ohio governor who sought the GOP presidential nomination four years ago.
A detailed but incomplete list of speakers released Tuesday also features many of Biden's 2020 primary rivals, congressional leaders close to the former vice president and several everyday Americans, including some who supported President Donald Trump in 2016.
Party officials and Biden aides describe the agenda as a way to pitch the nominee as a steady, consensus-building figure in contrast with Trump's turbulent tenure. Yet the unusual format, with just eight hours of prime-time programming spread over four nights from Aug. 17-20, will test Biden's ability to project a cohesive message to a splintered electorate wrenched by a pandemic, a devastated economy and an ongoing reckoning on systemic racism.
“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 for Biden.
Programming is set to be broadcast and streamed online each night from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. EDT.
Attempts at unity and diversity – racial and ethnic, gender and ideological – are apparent in each night’s headliners. Many other details, including who will speak live and whose remarks will be pre-taped, are not finalized. Biden also has not named a keynote speaker, who will be featured Tuesday, the same night Biden will be formally nominated by a pre-recorded roll call vote of the 57 state and territorial delegations.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist who has twice finished as runner-up for the nomination, will appear Monday, the same night as Kasich. Former first lady Michelle Obama and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also will be featured that night, though Whitmer would move to Wednesday if Biden selected her as his running mate.
Former President Bill Clinton, Ocasio-Cortez and Jill Biden, the nominee's wife, lead the Tuesday slate, which also includes former acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates, who Trump fired early in his administration.
Prominent Democratic women dominate the lineup Wednesday, when the vice presidential nominee will speak.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, both potential vice presidential picks, are named as speakers in their own rights. The list also includes 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton, the first woman to lead a major party ticket in the United States; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the first woman to hold the gavel on Capitol Hill; and Gabrielle Giffords, the former congresswoman and high-profile advocate for tighter gun restrictions.
Former President Barack Obama, who remains perhaps the party's most popular figure, also drew a Wednesday time slot.
As with a normal convention, Biden's acceptance speech will conclude the proceedings Thursday night. He is expected to speak live from his home state of Delaware, though the campaign has not announced a venue.
The warm-up for Biden includes several former rivals and close allies. A quartet of potential running mates have Thursday slots for now: Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth, Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin, California Sen. Kamala Harris and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. Former 2020 presidential hopefuls Pete Buttigieg and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker are on Thursday's agenda.
Several longtime Biden friends and allies made the cut, as well. Former Secretary of State John Kerry, the 2004 presidential nominee, has a Tuesday spot. South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, whose endorsement of Biden ahead of the first-in-the-South primary was a turning point in the nominating contest, will appear Monday.
Yet the compressed schedule means there's not room for every prominent Democrat who would get a share of the spotlight at a traditional convention.
Notable omissions on the list as it stood Tuesday morning: Georgia voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams, who delivered Democrats' State of the Union response in 2019; Beto O'Rourke, the former Texas congressman who ran for president this year; and two of Biden's campaign co-chairmen: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond.
Time slots became even more finite earlier this week when the Democratic National Committee confirmed the inclusion of rank-and-file voters from around the country. They include a Pennsylvania farmer who voted for Trump in 2016, a pastor from Reno, Nevada, a public transit bus driver from Atlanta and a union auto worker from Michigan.
Questions remain about who gets to speak live and how long presenters will have the spotlight.
Live addresses involve potential technical difficulties, and they introduce unpredictable time elements should a speaker go over the 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 NBA star LeBron James’ national high school graduation bonanza, which was taped.