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Democratic National Convention Kicks Off Monday In Virtual Event

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Election Day is only 78 days away, and we are now heading into the thick of a campaign season that will be like no other in living memory. To kick that off, the all-virtual Democratic National Convention begins tomorrow. Coming up, we'll hear from two Democratic convention delegates, one casting a ballot for Joe Biden, the other for Bernie Sanders. But first, NPR's Scott Detrow joins us with what to expect over the next few days.

Hi, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Seventy-eight days - so close, so far. Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So close, so far - so true. We know this is not going to be the typical big spectacle tomorrow. The convention will be completely virtual and shorter this year - two hours each night. For some, that will be good news. But isn't that going to come at some political cost for the Democrats?

DETROW: You know, it very well might. This is totally uncharted territory, and that lack of that energetic arena might make the event less compelling. But we should note that, aside from people like us, the convention has been less and less relevant and more of a relic every election to begin with. And on top of that, Democrats made a deliberate decision early on this year to lead with safety and - even if that meant a scaled-down convention.

And they've scaled this down several times, and they did that for medical reasons, but also a bit of a political calculation that voters want a party that cares about safety. You've had Joe Biden talking for months about how the president needs to show more leadership in modeling public health standards. He was wearing a mask since May before that became something that most politicians embraced. And Democrats are hoping that there'll be a contrast here, as they've prepared for this, while President Trump was still holding out on having that big in-person convention and then had...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right.

DETROW: ...To scrap those plans. And now Republicans still don't have a plan for their convention in just two weeks.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. We know that Joe Biden will be there with his running mate, Kamala Harris. What else are we going to see? And what do Democrats hope it says about their party beyond that they care about safety?

DETROW: Right. Now that we know who the running mate is, California Senator Kamala Harris, we know she'll be speaking Wednesday, and Biden will be speaking Thursday. The Obamas will be a big presence. So much of Biden's campaign all along has been about restoring the Obama administration approach to governmenting (ph), and in the pandemic, that has really boiled down to just emphasizing that he takes governing seriously. So we should expect former President Barack Obama to talk about Biden's role in the economic recovery of 2009 and also how the Obama administration handled the swine flu and Ebola outbreaks.

And last point on this - that kind of approach has allowed Biden to appeal to progressive Democrats and alienated Republicans at the same time, and that's really underscored by tomorrow night's lineup. You have former Ohio Governor John Kasich, a Republican. You also have Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who was Biden's, of course, main primary rival and a big progressive leader in the party even though he's not a member of it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's an interesting lineup. Given the shortened program, though, a lot of people are being left out of prime time. Is that causing any serious blowback?

DETROW: Yeah. There's been some frustration in recent days from Latino and Muslim political activists. There's only a handful of Latino speakers listed and no Muslim speakers scheduled in prime time. Of course, the most memorable speech in 2016 was from Khizr Khan, a Muslim and father of a U.S. Army soldier killed in Iraq. These, broadly speaking, are groups, demographically, that supported Sanders over Biden, and Biden has been trailing Clinton and Obama with Latino support. We will see if the party changes. They've been making a lot of last-minute adjustments.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Just briefly, what are President Trump and his campaign planning to counter the Democratic message with this week?

DETROW: Looks like the president will be traveling through some key swing states. That's a risky move. Of course, that Oklahoma rally was poorly attended, and he had to cancel a rally he planned after that. And as for his convention the week after - still up in the air. It looks like the president may try to accept the nomination from the White House, which raises a lot of ethical questions about federal government property.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: NPR's Scott Detrow, thank you so much.

DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.