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Democrats Still Hopeful That A Virtual Convention Will Organize The Party

Mark Wilson
Getty Images
Delegates sit in their seats during the Demoratic National Convention, at the FleetCenter July 28, 2004, in Boston, Mass.

It's been almost a year and a half since Milwaukee was picked to host the 2020 Democratic National Convention (DNC). Since then, the coronavirus pandemic has upended plans for an in-person convention, which was expected to bring an estimated 50,000 people to the city.

Instead, the Democratic National Committee has instructed delegates, including members of Congress, to steer clear of Milwaukee and participate virtually. At the same time, officials say the convention will be “anchored” in Milwaukee and that former Vice President and presumptive nominee Joe Biden will accept the nomination here — although information on who else might come to the city and how many people has not been released. 

The most prominent Milwaukeean in the Democratic National Committee is secretary Jason Rae. Rae set the record for the youngest member ever elected to the committee when he was elected to represent Wisconsin for the 2004 DNC in Boston at just 17. He went on to lead the Democratic National Committee's Youth Council, serve as president and CEO for the Wisconsin LGBT Chamber of Commerce, and was elected secretary of the Democratic National Committee in 2017. 

The full version of Democratic National Committee Secretary Jason Rae's conversation with WUWM's Maayan Silver that aired on Lake Effect.

Despite the challenges the convention now faces, Rae believes the DNC will help brings eyes to the city of Milwaukee and help elect Joe Biden as president this November. We spoke with Rae about what to expect from the scaled-down convention:

The DNC chose Milwaukee to host its convention about a year and a half ago, and the world is a very, very different place than when it was originally chosen. Can you walk us through what people can expect at the convention?

Jason Rae: I think we are still trying to figure out all of those pieces at the moment. Front and center of all of our planning is the health and safety not only of our convention participants but most importantly of the citizens of our host community, those people in Milwaukee, whatever we end up producing for the convention is one that will have health and safety of our participants at top of mind. So we are still consulting with public health officials on a local, state, and national level to figure out what we'll be able to do for the convention. But, you know, those decisions we made as we get closer to August.

Usually for delegates, the point of a convention is to pump up the crowd and bring visuals, perhaps cheeseheads for instance, and encourage local pride and networking. Now, it doesn't seem like there will be much of that or perhaps none of that. Why is it still important to be a delegate this year?

Rae: I think it's, it's still vitally important. We are working on ways as a convention to still engage delegates, we have launched a new delegate hub with which will allow our delegates to share their stories to connect with one another. And really to talk about, you know why they are a Democrat. At the end of the day, this is still an important piece of party business and our delegates will still be voting on our party's platform on our party's nominee. So there's still vital party business that will take place during the convention. Even though folks may not be physically here in Milwaukee. I know we are committed to finding ways to engage folks. I know state parties across the country are talking about ways that they can engage and excite delegates from their states as well with different programming and opportunities as we celebrate the convention.

You've said that "the biggest thing out of all of this is just making sure that at the end of the day, we turn people out to vote and that we win this election. The only thing that matters right now is winning in November." How are Democrats planning on using the convention to help them win in November?

Rae: We're really using the convention here, at least for people in Wisconsin, as an organizing opportunity. I know the state parties are working on different ways to engage folks, whether they're delegates or just folks who are interested in this and really using this as an opportunity to propel us out of the convention into the general election this fall. This convention week will be an opportunity really to unite together as a party and to begin our work moving towards November.

What are the main topics you want to hear from Joe Biden at the convention?

Rae: I think we're going to hear from the vice president during the convention about his plan to move America forward, to return the soul of our country. How we're going to invest in America's working class, how we're going to help restore our integrity around the world. I'm excited to hear from the vice president about how we are going, as a party, to come together and really make sure that we are advocating for all people, for equal rights, for civil rights, and that we are really trying to make a difference, a positive difference in people's lives.

Do you see a possibility for another convention in Milwaukee, political or otherwise, going forward?

Rae: I absolutely do. I think, you know, we, as a city have a real opportunity with this. And I think having, you know, even though it may not be the convention that many people had planned for, we really were able to showcase to the world, frankly, that Milwaukee has the capabilities to pull off and host a convention like this, that we have the amenities, that we have to space. I know that after the announcement came, Visit Milwaukee heard from several entities who now are interested in looking at Milwaukee for their convention. So I think we will see Milwaukee becoming a convention city and somewhere that people want to visit. I think with that it's one where when people get to come here and they get to experience Milwaukee, they fall in love with this city, so I can't wait for other conventions, political or otherwise, to come to Milwaukee in the future.

Maayan is a WUWM news reporter.
From 2020 to 2021, Jack was WUWM's digital intern and then digital producer.