Joe Biden won't travel to Milwaukee for 2020 DNC because of coronavirus concerns

Bill Glauber
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Whatever was left of an in-person 2020 Democratic National Convention evaporated Wednesday as organizers announced Joe Biden won't travel to Milwaukee to give his presidential acceptance speech.

Neither will any of the other speakers who will address the convention Aug. 17-20.

As the coronavirus pandemic paralyzes politics, Democrats will hold a virtual convention. Biden will accept the party's presidential nomination from his home in Delaware.

In a statement, organizers said, "After ongoing consultation with public health officials and experts – who underscored the worsening coronavirus pandemic – the Democratic National Convention Committee announced today speakers … will no longer travel to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in order to prevent risking the health of our host community as well as the convention’s production teams, security officials, community partners, media and others necessary to orchestrate the event."

Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez said, "From the very beginning of this pandemic, we put the health and safety of the American people first. We followed the science, listened to doctors and public health experts, and we continued making adjustments to our plans in order to protect lives. That’s the kind of steady and responsible leadership America deserves. And that’s the leadership Joe Biden will bring to the White House."

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Biden's decision is one more blow to the idea that the convention could provide an electoral boost to Wisconsin.

Biden hasn't campaigned in Wisconsin at all this year, although he made appearances on behalf of Democratic candidates in Wisconsin in 2018.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton campaigned there during the primaries but did not make an appearance during the general election.

The Milwaukee convention is just a shell of what was originally envisioned.

When the city landed the convention more than a year ago, it was hoped that 50,000 people would travel to Milwaukee for four nonstop days and nights of politics.  

The coronavirus pandemic upended plans. The original convention dates were moved back a month. Delegates were told to stay away.

Now, there won't even be any speakers.

“While we wish we could move forward with welcoming the world to beautiful Milwaukee in two weeks, we recognize protecting the health of our host community and everyone involved with this convention must be paramount,” Joe Solmonese, the convention's chief executive, said in a statement.

Solmonese said, “This convention will look different than any previous convention in history. It will reach more people than ever before, and truly be a convention across America for all Americans, regardless of which party you belong to or who you’ve voted for in previous elections. This 'unconventional convention' will launch Joe Biden to victory in November."

“Wow,” was the reaction of political scientist Byron Shafer, a retired University of Wisconsin-Madison professor and a scholar of conventions.

“That was really all that was left” of a traditional convention, Shafer said of Biden’s plans to accept the nomination in Milwaukee.

The question looming for both parties is whether they can command anything approximating a normal audience as they remotely nominate their presidential candidates this month. 

“The president himself isn’t going to Charlotte.  He’s not going to Jacksonville. Now the Democratic nominee is not coming” to Wisconsin, Shafer said. “If you were an audience member with a mild interest in politics, that might signal to you this isn’t worth it all, (that) you’re not going to spend five hours the week of the convention watching the (video) feed.”

Contributing: Craig Gilbert