Dems’ vir­tual con­ven­tion an un­fold­ing po­lit­i­cal ex­per­i­ment

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - lsweet@sun­times.com LYNN SWEET | @lynnsweet

Will the vir­tual po­lit­i­cal con­ven­tions forced on us be­cause of the COVID-19 pan­demic make any sub­stan­tial dif­fer­ence for Joe Bi­den or Don­ald Trump?

Maybe not, though I will miss be­ing in the room when the bal­loons drop.

When Bill Clin­ton spoke Tues­day night at the vir­tual Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion from the home he shares with Hil­lary in Chap­paqua, New York, he was sub­dued. In years past, Bill Clin­ton de­liv­ered stem winders to thun­der­ous ap­plause in packed con­ven­tion are­nas.

I was dis­tracted a bit as I tried to make out what seemed like fam­ily pic­tures on a ta­ble by his couch.

And if you were look­ing for­ward to some fire from New York’s Rep.

Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez, she was her most se­date ver­sion, dressed up and speak­ing in front of a very es­tab­lish­ment flag-draped back­ground in Wash­ing­ton.

The roll call, mostly pre­re­corded, freed from the tu­mult of a con­ven­tion floor, was a scenic, sub­stan­tive trip across the U.S. No go­ing back on this one, this is a change that should stick.

Hours be­fore he spoke at the vir­tual con­ven­tion Tues­day, former Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry was asked about vir­tual cam­paign­ing.

The vir­tual con­ven­tion is the most vis­i­ble man­i­fes­ta­tion of Bi­den’s vir­tual cam­paign, in­vented in midMarch in the wake of the pan­demic. Bi­den’s bid is all vir­tual — no door knocks, no noth­ing in per­son, no tak­ing any health risks.

“I think no one should un­der­es­ti­mate the power of vir­tual com­mu­ni­ca­tion,” said Kerry, the 2004 Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee.

“…I think that it may even elim­i­nate some of the chaff and al­low peo­ple to fo­cus on the mes­sage and get things out with a clar­ity that you might not oth­er­wise get” with in-per­son re­tail pol­i­tics, he said.

For the mo­ment, this un­prece­dented po­lit­i­cal road we are on — the Repub­li­cans hold their vir­tual con­ven­tion next week — is, Kerry said, “an ex­per­i­ment. We don’t know the an­swer to that yet. We’ll see what hap­pens.”

Most peo­ple never get into a con­ven­tion hall and con­sume con­ven­tions via tele­vi­sion in one sit­ting or in bits, from Twitch to Twit­ter. Here’s what we know so far:

On Mon­day, the first con­ven­tion night, there were 19.7 mil­lion view­ers across 10 net­works, down from 25.9 mil­lion peo­ple across seven net­works in 2016, ac­cord­ing to Nielsen Me­dia Re­search.

The so­cial me­dia num­bers sug­gest there will be much more to the con­ven­tion view­er­ship story.

CNN said its “mul­ti­plat­form unique vis­i­tors” were up by 19% vs. the first day of the 2016 Demo­cratic Con­ven­tion.

Bi­den spokesman T.J. Ducklo said 10.2 mil­lion watched via dig­i­tal streams on con­ven­tion night one, up from 2016 with the TV and on­line au­di­ence to­tal­ing 28.9 mil­lion.

I asked vet­eran con­ven­tion pro­ducer Jim Mar­go­lis — a se­nior ad­viser to Barack Obama and Hil­lary Clin­ton White House bids as well as Ka­mala Har­ris’ pres­i­den­tial cam­paign — whether a vir­tual con­ven­tion could turn out better than in-per­son.

Mar­go­lis said the Demo­cratic vir­tual con­ven­tion lends it­self to “mes­sage clar­ity.”

He said, “A chal­lenge that the pro­duc­ers faced was cre­at­ing en­ergy. Speak­ers of­ten feed off the crowd, and un­ques­tion­ably there is some­thing pretty pow­er­ful when some­one like Barack Obama walks on to the stage in front of 20,000 peo­ple, and that can’t be du­pli­cated in a vir­tual set­ting.

“On the other hand, ev­ery­one was equal last night, whether you were a se­na­tor or the daugh­ter of some­one who died be­cause of COVID. You were there, sit­ting at home, con­fronting the same chal­lenges as ev­ery­one else.

Some things don’t change, said Mar­go­lis. “When Michelle Obama speaks, she does it with power and grace. And that came through just as clearly last night, whether you were watch­ing on a com­puter screen or a 50-inch tele­vi­sion, as it did when you were sit­ting on the con­ven­tion floor. And so, you know, con­tent mat­ters.”

Former Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton and U.S. Rep. Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez, D-N.Y., speak Tues­day dur­ing the Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion.

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