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What To Expect From This Year's Democratic National Convention


Democrats kick off their national convention tonight. The event was supposed to draw tens of thousands of people to Milwaukee. The coronavirus pandemic scrambled those plans, so we have sent NPR political correspondents Scott Detrow and Asma Khalid not to Wisconsin but to Delaware, where Joe Biden will accept the Democratic nomination later this week. They join me now. Hey, Scott. Hey, Asma.


SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey. Good afternoon.

KELLY: So we're going to a preview of what is now an all-virtual event. There will be some live elements, some prerecorded elements. Asma, what is this going to look like? What's it going to sound like?

KHALID: I mean, I think that that is the question everybody has - right? - it's going to be two hours of a made-for-TV event. And it's really going to, in some ways, be that, right? You're going to have Eva Longoria, this actress who's going to give the introduction. You'll have musical acts. But the speakers - the political speakers - largely, many of them are going to be recorded. And so I do think it'll have a really unusual sense compared to the usual pomp and circumstance you expect at a convention.

You know, when you talk about what the agenda is, the Democrats are really focused on addressing the crises facing the nation, especially the pandemic. And you'll have a couple of key governors - Andrew Cuomo of New York and Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan - who've been dealing with the pandemic who are slated to speak tonight. And the big focus for Democrats is to contrast what a Biden administration's leadership would feel like, what it would be compared to what we've seen from the Trump administration.

KELLY: All right. Well, let's look ahead to some of these speakers who will be taking the stage, as it were, tonight. And, Scott, let me bring you in the keynote tonight is Michelle Obama, the former first lady. What is her task tonight?

DETROW: You know, Michelle Obama is one of the most popular people in the country, let alone the Democratic Party. But she really has not fully engaged in the presidential campaign yet. Barack Obama campaigned with and endorsed Joe Biden, delivered a political eulogy the other week at John Lewis's funeral. But this will really be the first that we're hearing from Michelle Obama directly when it comes to the campaign. Of course, she's been out there. She's got a great new podcast, among other things. But she hasn't really been doing campaigning. And, of course, Michelle Obama is a very powerful speaker. In 2016, she delivered what was maybe the most memorable speech of the campaign, calling out Donald Trump's rhetoric and message with that memorable line, when they go low, we go high.

KELLY: Which we quote all the time in our house (laughter). Another speaker to ask you about - because you covered him so much during the primaries, Scott - and that is Bernie Sanders. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who was hoping this would be his night. Do we know what he's going to say?

DETROW: A Sanders source told me it'll be a pretty simple message - the case not only for defeating Trump but also electing Joe Biden. Sanders knows a lot of his hardcore supporters are ambivalent or maybe suspicious about Biden, even as they're very motivated to see President Trump lose. But this is such a different situation than 2016. Sanders has campaigned hard for Biden. They also worked together on that task force that really set much of the platform that delegates are approving this week. So expect to hear Sanders talk about that and how those task forces moved Biden to the left on climate change, on health care, on several other key issues.

But, of course, the Democrats are trying to have a broad appeal tonight. They're trying to appeal to Republicans who are kind of dissatisfied with President Trump, maybe. So we're also going to hear from somebody who's probably not too excited about, you know, a broad public option that moves towards universal health care. And that is former Ohio Gov. John Kasich. But Sanders has pointed out Kasich and Sanders agree on maybe just one thing, and that's the need to defeat Donald Trump.

KELLY: Speaking of Donald Trump, he has a track record of counterprogramming big events. I am remembering, well, many times, but earlier this year, during the primaries, he would often travel to states and hold rallies that were just gearing up for a Democratic primary before Democrats voted. Are we expecting anything along these lines this week, Asma, as the Democrats try to proceed with their convention?

KHALID: Yeah, Mary Louise, you can expect to see similar counterprogramming all this week. And part of this is that Donald Trump is a reality TV star. So when we talk about the Democrats putting on a made-for-TV event, this is where he feels most comfortable. So he's going to be traveling a lot. He's planning to host events in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Arizona, Pennsylvania and possibly Iowa. And, you know, he had thoughts today on the Democrats' production, their convention. He was joking about this at the Minneapolis airport.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Do you want to go to a snooze? You know, when you hear... When you hear a speech is taped, it's like there's nothing very exciting about it, right?

KHALID: You know, Mary Louise, I think what's interesting about this moment is that Biden is clearly leading in the polls. We've seen him with double-digit leads. And you have the president, who's on sort of the - his back foot, really trying to build momentum and counterprogram because he needs to ahead of his own convention coming up next week.

KELLY: That is our NPR political correspondents Asma Khalid and Scott Detrow. Thanks to you both.

KHALID: You're welcome.

DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.
Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.
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