Democrats are discussing a range of contingency options in planning the Democratic National Convention, as fears grow that drastic steps will have to be taken to ensure the safety of party officials, the media and others in attendance.
There is a growing realization that the convention in Milwaukee may have to be scaled back dramatically, as Americans brace for an expected rise in deaths from the coronavirus and government officials enforce stay-at-home orders.
An ally of former Vice President Joe Biden with knowledge of the convention planning conversations told The Hill that “some sort of convention will happen,” but the “four-day extravaganza is looking less likely.”
Biden on Tuesday night also expressed doubts that the convention, originally slated to be a four-day event July 13-16 at Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum, would go on as planned.
Convention officials are considering limiting the in-person convention to delegates and essential party leaders, the Biden ally said. There is also talk about having only one delegate from each state attend the convention in person, while the rest cast their ballots by digital proxy.
President Trump’s convention is not until late August. The party out of power typically holds its convention first, which is why Democrats planned for the middle of July.
However, Democrats are eager to avoid a scenario where they are reduced to a convention that is primarily streamed online, particularly if it will be followed by a triumphant gathering of Republicans in late August to re-nominate Trump.
One source said there has been some chatter about delaying the convention until August, now that the Olympics have been postponed. That would require a lot of moving pieces falling into place, but Biden seemed to nod at this possibility in an interview on MSNBC on Tuesday night.
“One of the reasons why the Democratic convention was going to be held early was the Olympics were coming after the Republican convention,” Biden said. “There’s more time now.”
Committee officials hope to make a final decision by May 1, sources told The Hill.
The convention would bring thousands of people to Milwaukee, packing them closely together into a basketball arena. Convention attendees and thousands of reporters descend on the host cities every four years, staying in local hotels and going out to restaurants and bars.
That’s difficult to imagine, as some states have issued stay-at-home orders lasting through mid-June.
Democratic National Convention Committee CEO Joe Solmonese said in a statement to The Hill that the health crisis will be the committee’s primary concern as it maps out a way forward.
Solmonese said the committee is meeting regularly with local, state and federal officials to follow their guidance.
“Providing an opportunity for our candidate to reaffirm our democratic values, unify the party and share his vision for a safer and stronger future for our country has never before felt more important,” Solmonese said. “As we continue to put plans in place for a successful Democratic National Convention this summer, we will balance protecting the health and well-being of convention attendees and our host city with our responsibility to deliver this historic and critical occasion.”
Biden acknowledged how tricky it is to plan for the July convention with so much uncertainty about when life will return to normal.
He signaled that some sort of convention would go on, but that the national party would “listen to the scientists” to strike the appropriate balance.
“We ought to be able to do what we were able to do in the middle of the Civil War all the way through to World War II — have Democratic and Republican conventions, and primaries, and elections, and still have public safety,” Biden said on MSNBC. “And we’re able to do both. But the fact is that it may have to be different.”
Some Democratic donors are beginning to wonder whether the committee will be able to raise enough money for the convention as it is being planned now
Conventions cost tens of millions of dollars. Committees typically rely on raising the money by selling corporate packages and sponsorships. It’s hard to see those flying off the shelves with so much uncertainty, said one Democratic fundraiser.
“Conventions are very expensive, I think the host committee raised $70 million for it in 2016,” the fundraiser said. “It is a dead zone for political fundraisers right now. No one is raising money. You can’t do it. it’s not possible. So where is the money going to come from?”
Meanwhile, labor organizations are beginning to have discussions about ways to do the events they normally do around the conventions such as panels, media and member engagement.
“Right now … all the experts are warning that we are likely going to be social distancing until at least the end of June,” a source in the labor movement told The Hill. “So it isn’t likely that thousands of people will be gathering from around the nation in mid-July in a cramped arena.”
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