A presidential primary season like no other will culminate this week for the Democratic Party in the United States in an unprecedented, mostly digital convention that is set to cement Joe Biden as the official candidate tasked with taking on President Donald Trump in a November election.
Only essential staff will be on the ground at the convention centre in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a pivotal swing state that had spent millions of dollars preparing to host the high-profile event, which runs from August 17 to 20, before it was scaled back in light of the pandemic.
This year, the fanfare and spontaneity of past conventions – in which about 4,800 delegates officially nominate the Democratic candidate and the party lays out its policy priorities – will be replaced by a series of speeches streamed from across the country, which leads the world in terms of confirmed coronavirus cases and related deaths.
The speeches, about half of which will be pre-recorded, will run for two hours each night. They will include former Democratic presidents and several high-profile senators who just months ago challenged Biden to be the party’s candidate, as well as some of the party’s most respected former officials and rising stars.
The lineup also includes a former Republican governor and presidential candidate who has become a fierce critic of Trump, and organisers have hinted that at least one other prominent Republican may make an appearance.
Musical guests featured during the event will include John Legend, Common, Billie Eilish and the Chicks – formerly the Dixie Chicks. The Biden campaign on Friday also announced there will be online watch parties in all 50 states featuring elected officials and celebrities such as actress Alyssa Milano, former Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg and former Democratic adviser Valerie Jarrett.
The four-day convention is sure to pose some logistical problems for the party, the most notable expected to be the challenge for speakers to deliver rousing speeches from empty rooms devoid of cheering supporters.
While party caucus and council meetings will be held digitally, observers have also noted the cyber gatherings will likely lack much of the strategising, deal-making and networking between different interest groups that have defined past conventions.