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Democrats Expect 'In-Person Convention,' Party Chairman Says

Chip Somodevilla
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton delivers remarks at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Democratic Party chairman Tom Perez said Thursday that he expects to hold an “in-person convention” in Milwaukee to nominate Joe Biden for president, though he didn’t rule out the potential that portions of the event would be conducted virtually.

The convention is slated for the week of Aug. 17, but precise dates remain up in the air after Perez and party officials scrapped their original July 13-16 plans amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“We expect to hold an in-person convention in Milwaukee. We are planning for that,” Perez told reporters on a telephone call. “At the same time, we do not put our public health heads in the sand. We don’t do that right now. We won’t do that in the run-up.”

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Perez said he’s optimistic about forecasts he said suggest COVID-19 could begin a downward slope in Wisconsin later this spring.

“We moved the convention back five or six weeks, so that we can have more time” to decide, Perez said. “Wisconsin right now is in the throes of the pandemic. What many experts tell us is that they expect it to improve beginning in May. We will monitor the situation on the ground.”

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, recently extended his state’s stay-at-home order until May 26. He also released a three-phase plan to reopen the state’s economy, building off recommendations from the White House and federal officials. But the plan does not specifically address the convention or other large gatherings.

Biden, for his part, has been more circumspect than Perez in recent public statements, stating that the convention may have to be entirely virtual. One of Perez’s predecessors as party chairman, Terry McAuliffe, also recently predicted a virtual convention.

Democratic National Committee staff based in Milwaukee have spent weeks working with the area’s hospitality industry and other vendors to map out various contingencies. Some Democrats have floated the possibility of a limited number of party officials and delegates gathering to conduct business, while the full slate of about 4,700 delegates could still meet virtually. In that scenario, Biden and his yet-to-be-named running mate could still deliver acceptance addresses geared for broadcast but with a controlled live audience.

The Biden campaign declined to comment on Perez’s remarks.

A typical presidential nominating convention draws tens of thousands of party officials, activists and donors — along with thousands of credentialed media — to the host city. The attendance in convention arenas rival sold-out crowds for NBA basketball games or concerts held in the same venues.

Democrats are scheduled to gather in the home of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks. Republicans are set to gather the following week in the North Carolina arena that houses the Charlotte Hornets. NBA executives and owners say they want to finish their suspended season, but they’ve set no specific timetable.

Those realities aside, Perez alluded to the enthusiasm boost a candidate can get from a traditional convention.

“I am hopeful that we can have a very exciting convention in Milwaukee where we can highlight the vice president and his history-making running mate, whoever she turns out to be,” Perez said, alluding to Biden’s promise to select a woman for the Democratic ticket.

Perez’s Republican counterpart, Ronna McDaniel, has been even more optimistic in her predictions that the GOP hold a traditional convention in Charlotte to nominate President Donald Trump for a second term. McDaniel has, however, offered caveats that the GOP could adjust its plans if necessary.

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