A presidential campaign during a pandemic was always going to be challenging.
What wasn’t clear is if a Democratic convention held digitally would be at best boring, at worst a technical disaster.
However, what the proceedings lacked in atmosphere, crowds and balloon drops it made up for in a finely-tuned line up of speakers.
The key note speaker on the opening night was former First Lady Michelle Obama. A familiar face at the Democratic convention – this her fourth convention speech. But nearly four years after she left the White House, it appeared just as personal for her.
“When my husband left office with Joe Biden at his side, we had a record-breaking stretch of job creation. We’d secured the right to health care for 20,000,000 people. We were respected around the world, rallying our allies to confront climate change.
“And our leaders had worked hand-in-hand with scientists to help prevent an Ebola outbreak from becoming a global pandemic. Four years later, the state of this nation is very different. More than 150,000 people have died, and our economy is in shambles because of a virus that this president downplayed for too long.”
Michelle Obama is a hugely popular figure among the Democratic base and she was a strong headline act for the first night of the Democratic convention. But her pre-recorded speech was made before Joe Biden appointed his running mate Kamala Harris.
This meant America’s first Black First Lady missed the opportunity to personally endorse the first Black woman to run on the presidential ticket for either of the two main parties. An early flaw in the virtual convention which will take place for two hours each night until Thursday.
The well-produced videos and carefully considered cast of speakers certainly outlined the three focuses for the Democratic campaign. The pandemic, the economy and fighting racial injustice.
The host city Milwaukee is empty of the usual crowds, instead a team of digital experts is orchestrating appearances online from around the country.
The range of people speaking was clearly designed to appeal to a broad church. From the twice presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, to former Republican Governor John Kasich, the convention cast a wide net in a bid to engage undecided voters.
But a moment of silence led by the brother of George Floyd was perhaps more powerful than any spoken word tonight.
Joe Biden will formally accept the Democratic nomination in a speech from Delaware on Thursday night but it’s not clear if he will travel during the campaign.
President Trump has mocked Biden for working from his basement at home and for his lack of travel. By contrast, Donald Trump toured battleground states today as debate rages in Washington about his attacks on the postal service ahead of an election where millions of people plan to vote by mail.
Speaking in Wisconsin, his comments reinforced concern the president may be setting the stage to question the election result if he loses in November and blame postal votes.
“The only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged, remember that. It’s the only way we’re gonna lose this election. So we have to be very careful. We have — this is more than this election. That’s a big statement. The only way they’re gonna win, is that way, and we can’t let that happen.”
These comments came as news broke the Postmaster general Louis Dejoy, a republican donor and Trump appointee, will testify before Congress next week.
The backdrop of campaigning in a pandemic-era election is vastly different from 2016 – and Democrats, no longer campaigning against a hypothetical President Trump, have united in their opposition of him.
Michelle Obama who famously said “when they go low, we go high”, refrained from mentioning Donald Trump by name at the last convention. This year her messaging was more explicit.
“Going high means unlocking the shackles of lies and mistrust with the only thing that can truly set us free: the cold hard truth.
“So let me be as honest and clear as I possibly can. Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country. He has had more than enough time to prove that he can do the job, but he is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet this moment.
“He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us.”
While opposition to President Trump appears to be a unifying factor among Democrats, a big unknown is how big an audience this week’s events will draw. In the midst of a pandemic, with the country in a state of crisis, people may tune in for far more than political entertainment.