Democrats delayed their presidential nominating convention Thursday until the week of Aug. 17 to increase the likelihood that the party can still hold an in-person gathering in Milwaukee amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The decision to reschedule from July puts the Democratic gathering one week before the Republican convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, starting Aug. 24, which both President Trump and Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel pledged recently will go forward.

Trump said last week that there was “no way” his convention would be canceled, and McDaniel said that planning for a “full seated” convention was moving “full steam ahead.” But Democrats have taken a far more cautious approach, in part because their convention was originally scheduled six weeks earlier in the summer to accommodate the Summer Olympics, which have since been canceled.

“In our current climate of uncertainty, we believe the smartest approach is to take additional time to monitor how this situation unfolds so we can best position our party for a safe and successful convention,” Joe Solmonese, CEO of the Democratic National Convention Committee, said in a statement Thursday.

Former vice president Joe Biden, who is leading in delegates to the nomination, made clear this week that he welcomed a delay.

“I think it’s going to have to move into August,” Biden said Wednesday on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.”

The postponement is only the latest sign of a presidential contest upended by the coronavirus, which has killed more than 50,000 people worldwide and more than 5,300 in the U.S. and cost Americans millions of jobs.

Several states that had planned to vote in late March or April postponed their primaries, extended the end of the nominating season – and the determination of a winner – well into June, potentially costing the party months of general election organizing.

When it comes to the summer conventions, Democrats had worried that their event would be canceled but that the Republican one would still be able to go forward, delivering Trump a clear advantage in the televised spectacle that marks the start of the general election.

By tradition, the party that does not hold the White House goes first in the nominating contest. Both parties depend on live media coverage of the events, particularly by broadcast networks, to reintroduce their candidates and campaign themes before the final sprint to the nomination.

Democratic officials said the August event would still be subject to the recommendations of federal and state health officials, who have signaled that they are waiting for data on the course of the coronavirus infection.

“When it goes down to essentially no new cases, no deaths at a period of time, I think it makes sense that you’re going to have to relax social distancing,” the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci, said this week when asked about the summer conventions.

Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis., a co-chair of the convention host committee, said she spoke with Democratic chairman Tom Perez last month, shortly after the first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed in the state.

“I said to him that my third grade teacher told me that the biological definition of survival was the ability to adapt to change,” Moore said in an interview Thursday. “We are going to be re-envisioning different kind of spaces. For example, the convening of the Rules Committee – that might have to be a much bigger venue so that people can space themselves appropriately. There might have to be rules around microphones so that everyone will be clean.”

Democratic convention organizers have spent the past two weeks seeking out contingency plans for the convention, exploring virtual voting options and a new schedule. Major contracts for a July convention were due to be signed in the coming weeks, putting pressure on organizers to make a decision.

Both national party and local officials have tried to emphasize a commitment to holding the event in Wisconsin, a key battleground state that Democrats lost in 2016.

“The convention team is totally focused on accomplishing two goals, which are protecting the health and safety of Wisconsinites and making sure we launch the Democratic nominee in a way that is unmistakably Wisconsin,” Wisconsin Democratic Party Chair Ben Wikler said Wednesday.

A person familiar with the Republican deliberations said Wednesday that the president remained determined to go forward with his convention and that many donors to the event think the coronavirus is less of a concern, because they are not in places that are currently affected by it.

But a fully virtual convention, or one with far fewer people than normal, is still a real possibility for both parties, which have recently taken steps to allow for voting delays and virtual meetings as the nomination process moves forward. Local health officials in both Wisconsin and North Carolina are likely to be wary of a large influx of out-of-state travelers if the pandemic is still spreading.

“You go to a swing state, which both of these are, you don’t want to leave them with 10,000 cases of COVID-19,” former Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean said. “You just may not be able to have 20,000 or 30,000 or 40,000 people.”

Democratic committee members believe that an electronic voting system for the nearly 4,000 delegates would be far more manageable than the problematic electronic system that marred the Iowa caucuses. Unlike a regular election, votes at the convention are cast publicly, so they are easier to verify after the fact. Only five votes must be held – three for committee reports, one for the presidential nominees and one for the vice presidential nominee.

The original plans for the Milwaukee convention presumed that as many as 50,000 people from around the country would come to the city, including about 15,000 journalists and nearly 4,000 party delegates. The city’s original bid identified 15,000 hotel rooms and 500 buses that could be used for the four-day event.

Concern in the state has grown, however, as the coronavirus has spread throughout the country, leading to stay-at-home orders for most Americans.

A poll by Marquette University last week found that 62 percent of Wisconsin voters did not want the convention to move forward as an in-person event. That included 69 percent of Democrats, 62 percent of independents and 55 percent of Republicans.

But there is concern in both parties that any switch to a virtual convention, without a live event for reporters to cover in person, will lower the network interest in covering the spectacles and limit their reach.

“The less newsworthy they become, the less coverages there is. And events are newsworthy,” said Erik Smith, a Democratic consultant who helped plan his party’s last three events.

“The truth is this is not something that people are going to walk away from easily.”

The Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey contributed to this report.


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