SALT LAKE CITY — Par Kermani, a first-time delegate to the Democratic National Convention, said even though the four-day event that starts Monday to formally nominate former Vice President Joe Biden as the party’s presidential candidate is being held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic, there may be a small part for him to play.
“There is going to be ‘applause.’ We were asked — I’m not sure if I’m sure if I’m supposed to be saying this — but we were asked to send a video of us in kind of applauding, showing enthusiasm and excitement. I did send in my video for that and I’m hoping that will make the final cut,” the 33-year-old returning college student said.
Kermani, a delegate for former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, said he recorded himself wearing a button from Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and “jumping up and down because at the end of the day, I am excited. I hope that we win this election and finally get rid of Trump. I’m excited for that and I’ll proudly show it.”
After watching Biden introduce his running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, to an empty auditorium last week, Kermani said he’s concerned that the enthusiasm he and other Democrats have for their presidential pick won’t be apparent to those tuning in to the convention that had been expected to attract 50,000 people to Milwaukee.
Instead of standing before an arena full of cheering delegates amid a flurry of balloons and confetti, Biden and Harris will accept their nominations from Delaware, where the former vice president has been conducting much of the campaign from his home.
The delegates who would have traveled from throughout the country for the convention will also be participating remotely, many likely watching from their own living rooms after having already voted online for the party rules, platform and presidential ticket.
“It’s going to be different. I don’t know if there is going to be as much excitement there,” Kermani said, especially compared to the Republican National Convention the following week. Some 300 GOP delegates — six from each state, including Utah — will gather in Charlotte, North Carolina, to formally nominate President Donald Trump.
The president has said he’ll make his acceptance speech from the White House, after canceling plans to hold a much larger rally in Florida than North Carolina officials would permit and deciding against the Civil War battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Other GOP convention events are apparently now being held in Washington, D.C.
“Nobody knows this, what I’m about to say, better than Donald Trump. There’s no substitute for getting people in a room and getting them excited together. The chemistry. The synergy. And we’re not going to have that, obviously,” said Utah House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, a Biden delegate.
That puts Biden at a disadvantage, especially since many voters are still getting to know him as a potential commander in chief and are going to see him “speaking from a room that does not have a live audience. I don’t care how hard you work on scripting it this way, that synergy,” he said, won’t be there.
But King, who’d been looking forward to attending his first national convention, said Democrats are more united this year than they were in 2016, because “people have freaked out a little bit at the possibility we’ll see a second term for Donald Trump. It’s had the effect of focusing people’s attention.”
Four years ago, when the party was split between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, King said many Democrats believed there was no way Trump could win and so felt they “could afford to be a little more free to express their heartburn at Hillary being the nominee.”
Another first-time delegate, Darlene McDonald, said she believes it’s the Democratic ticket that will stand out for voters in Utah, a state that hasn’t elected a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964, even without the fanfare of a traditional party convention.
“We shouldn’t view this as a beauty pageant,” said McDonald, a Biden delegate who ran unsuccessfully for the 4th Congressional District seat ultimately won two years ago by the state’s only Democrat in Congress, Rep. Ben McAdams, who isn’t participating in the convention.
McDonald said voters have “got to look harder. It can’t just be a surface thing.”
What Biden brings, she said, is “competent leadership, which is what we need right now in this country. We need competency. We need leadership. We need unity. And we need someone who understands the face of this country is diversity. Diversity makes us stronger. Joe Biden understands that. We don’t have to agree with Joe Biden 100%.”
McDonald said the base of the Democratic Party is Black women like herself and that Biden was “listening to the moment” when he named her first choice for president, Harris, as his running mate. Harris is the first African American and first Asian American woman on a major party ticket.
While McDonald said she’s disappointed not to be experiencing the historic moment in person, she’s ready to make the best of a virtual convention by holding a socially distanced gathering around a big-screen TV for a few delegates, complete with red, white and blue balloons.
Two of Utah’s 29 delegates determined by the outcome of Utah’s Democratic presidential primary, held on Super Tuesday March 3, are already planning on watching all four days of the convention together at his house even though they supported different candidates.
Sanders was the winner in Utah, with 36% of the vote. He was followed by Biden with 18%; Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, 16%; and Bloomberg, 15%. Other candidates on the ballot, including former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, dropped out of the race before Election Day.
Zach Thomas, a Sanders delegate and the chairman of the Weber County Democratic Party at just 19 years old, said he and Oscar Mata, a Biden delegate and Utah House candidate, are “kind of an example of how Biden people and Bernie people can get along and find common ground.”
Thomas said he was bound to vote for Sanders, the only challenger who did not drop out of the race, but is fully behind Biden because “at the end of day, I’m definitely a committed Democrat so I’m doing as much as I can to help elect Biden and Kamala Harris in November.”
He said fellow progressives “need to step up to the plate and find the things we agree on.”
Utah will have its moment in the spotlight Tuesday when Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson speaks on behalf of the state during the roll call vote in what will be a prerecorded message at the Capitol, Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jeff Merchant said.
Willson, the party’s outgoing national committeewoman for Utah, is expected to highlight the state’s success with voting by mail, Merchant said. Trump has been attacking efforts by other states to conduct the election largely by mail for health reasons during the pandemic.
Former Utah Democratic Party Chairwoman Meg Holbrook, a delegate to both the 1996 convention in Chicago, where then-President Bill Clinton was nominated for a second term, and the 2000 convention in Los Angeles that nominated Clinton’s vice president, Al Gore, said change “is not a bad thing.”
Holbrook, who would have been in Milwaukee as a member of the national party’s credentials committee, said with a virtual convention, “We’ll miss the excitement of the in-person and seeing a lot of people, and the social aspects of it. And the thrill that you feel standing on the floor of the convention when the candidates come out to speak.”
That moment “is palpable. The excitement is palpable,” she said, and something you never forget. “The conventions are the Super Bowls of politics.”