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Democrats Consider Remote Participation In The Democratic National Convention


What will the 2020 elections be like if there are no traditional national conventions this summer? Democrats now say they are weighing backup plans. Both parties are struggling to figure out how exactly to prepare for these big, crowded events that are supposed to be taking place in August. NPR's Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Party conventions are major events in packed arenas with thousands of attendees and press flying in from all over the country. At this moment, it would be impossible to hold that kind of event. But the conventions are still three months away. Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said on a party rules committee call today, all decisions will be decided by what is best for public health.


TOM PEREZ: It is my expectation and hope that we will have an exciting, inspiring convention in August in Milwaukee. Now, does this mean that a precise format has been decided? No.

KEITH: Democrats had already bumped their convention back a month to improve the chances of being able to hold an in-person convention. Now, they're giving organizers flexibility to make changes to keep delegates and others safe. Meanwhile, on a call with reporters, President Trump's daughter-in-law and top campaign surrogate Lara Trump said Republicans are keeping their fingers crossed.


LARA TRUMP: We don't plan on canceling our convention. We plan on going ahead with it. It is in August in Charlotte, N.C. We're very excited to see that happen and to hopefully be back to some semblance of normalcy then.

KEITH: If it does go ahead as planned, that would mean drawing some 50,000 people to Charlotte for the convention and events around it, which some North Carolina elected officials are skeptical about at best. In an acknowledgment that these are not normal times, Republican National Convention planners recently brought on a senior adviser for health and safety planning. All of this has high stakes, not just for public health, but for political messaging.

JOHN SIDES: The conventions have some of the largest effects of any event in a presidential general election.

KEITH: John Sides is a professor of political science at Vanderbilt University. He says these multiday, televised infomercials for the presidential candidates can help rally partisans who haven't yet fully committed to their party's nominee.

SIDES: What's that going to look like if you can't gather in person, you know, several thousand screaming people cheering on the candidate? How do you replicate that? And that (inaudible) even more interesting question if one party decides to have an in-person convention and the other doesn't.

KEITH: Whether and how these conventions move ahead will, in all likelihood, be decided by the level of virus activity come August and whether state and local officials are willing to accept the risk of gatherings that large.

Tamara Keith, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.