Democratic Convention: Once intended to host 50,000, it may now have just 300 attendees

Today the NY Times published a piece about ongoing planning for the Democratic National Convention which is scheduled to start in Milwaukee one month from today. Originally intended to host 50,000 cheering partisans the in-person event has now been pared down to about 300.

First to 5,000 attendees. Then, a mere 1,000.

Now, one month before the party is set to gather at a convention site smaller than the one originally selected, officials are expecting the quadrennial event to include as few as 300 people — a number that includes not only attendees but members of the news media, security personnel, medical consultants and party workers.

Every aspect of the four-day Democratic National Convention, scheduled to begin Aug. 17, has been scaled back from the ambitions set when Milwaukee was named the host city in March 2019. A program of five to six hours of daily speeches, engineered to entertain delegates in the arena and draw heavy television coverage and headlines for Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his vice-presidential nominee, will be cut down closer to three hours each night. Much of the program is likely to be pretaped videos, according to people familiar with the planning…

As of this week, only Mr. Biden and Tom Perez, the Democratic National Committee chairman, are committed to come to Milwaukee, although party officials said the program was still being written. They’ve even given the event a new slogan to reflect the change: “Convention Across America.”

It sounds absolutely awful. The convention was originally scheduled to be held in a basketball arena. Now it’s being moved at the Wisconsin Center, a convention center across the street.

None of the big names of the party or former rivals to Biden have been asked to show up, though in some cases Democrats should probably consider that a blessing in disguise. Beto O’Rourke told the Times, “Not planning to go and to my knowledge no one’s been in touch with us about participating remotely or in person.” And Stacey ‘VP or bust’ Abrams told the paper, “I will appear if summoned.” Yes, we know! No one has summoned you, Stacy.

So what’s left of this convention? Apparently it’s going to be a nightly TV show featuring “pre-edited clips of people speaking from their homes. But the shortened format means there are less speaking slots for up-and-coming Democrats. That may not be a real problem for Biden but it could be a problem longer-term for the party whose top competitors this year were all in their 70s. Conventions were a moment where new talent could make an impression but that will be harder to do this year.

What Democrats most hope to accomplish is to present a party that is doing everything it can to play it safe with regard to the coronavirus. They hope that will contrast positively with images from the RNC where thousands of people could potentially be celebrating without masks. In any case, that’s the narrative they are putting out for the media to follow and you can bet the media will follow it whether or not it’s true.

I think Democrats are taking a risk here. There’s a real chance this convention could come across like the response to the State of the Union Address usually does (regardless of which party is giving it), i.e. the SOTU is a big formal event with lots of live reactions and the response usually feels cramped and staged and out of touch with the scope and scale of the SOTU. The difference in this case is that the Republican convention will come one week after the Democratic one. Will that help or hurt Democrats? We’ll have to tune in and see next month.