Will there still be funny hats? National party conventions go virtual

A person wearing a face mask helps load a car.
Democratic delegate Zach Aaker of Minneapolis helps unload necessities Saturday during a community service event in Minneapolis for state delegates taking part in the Democratic National Convention. The virtual convention starts Monday.
Keren Habtes for MPR News

There won’t be a packed arena in Milwaukee this week: No loud music, no balloons. But the Democratic National Convention will be held nonetheless, as a virtual event because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Republicans will do the same next week.

Ceri Everett
Ceri Everett of Red Wing, Minn., is a delegate to the 2020 Democratic National Convention
Courtesy Minnesota DFL Party

The Minnesota Democratic delegation is a mix of veteran conventiongoers and novices. Ceri Everett of Red Wing is a delegate for the presumptive nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden. Everett, who's a teacher, was also a national delegate in 2012, so she knows what she will be missing out on this time.

“I think it would be hard to say that I’m not disappointed,” Everett said. “I mean, I was looking forward to being in Milwaukee. But I also understand, because frankly I don’t know that we could have done it safely.”

The national convention and its virtual programming will run through Thursday. Minnesota delegates will hold a series of breakfast gatherings each morning, with full convention events each evening. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who backed Biden after ending her own presidential bid, is scheduled to speak Monday night.

Minnesota delegates got an early start over the weekend with an in-person community service event in Minneapolis. There’s also an in-person nomination acceptance celebration event scheduled for Thursday evening in Minneapolis.

Kevin Armstrong, an attorney from Minneapolis and a Biden delegate, said he is ready.

Democratic delegate Kevin Armstrong
Kevin Armstrong of Minneapolis is a delegate to the Democratic National Convention.
Courtesy Minnesota DFL Party

“It’s an important time in our country, and whether we’re there reveling in-person or reveling virtually, I’m just excited to be able to participate.”

Armstrong and others say their convention enthusiasm has grown since Biden’s announcement that California Sen. Kamala Harris is his running mate.

Lisa Olson of Elk River, another teacher and Biden delegate, said she was thrilled by the Harris pick.

“I think it’s perfect timing for a woman to be on the ticket.”  

Minnesota’s contingent is mostly Biden delegates, but there are also many Bernie Sanders delegates and a few for Elizabeth Warren.

Olson said she appreciates the delegation mix.

‘They help us to stretch, and they help us to gain perspective. It doesn’t always mean we’ll agree,” she said, “but I think it helps us to understand.”

People unload items from a shopping cart.
DFL state Rep. Rena Moran of St. Paul (center) and volunteer Tan Do of St. Paul assist community members with picking up necessities Saturday during a community service event in Minneapolis for state delegates taking part in the virtual Democratic National Convention.
Keren Habtes for MPR News

Rod Halvorson of St. Paul is a Sanders delegate, just as he was four years ago. Halvorson said he’s disappointed again that his candidate didn’t prevail. He's also disappointed that Medicare For All, a signature Sanders proposal, did not make it into the party platform. Still, Halvorson believes this time the party can unify more easily behind Biden. He said the big reason for that unity is President Donald Trump. 

“We face someone so horrible for this country, that it won’t be quite as divisive as 2016, in my humble opinion.”

Conventions are a way political parties get people motivated for the general election campaign. Minnesota DFL Party Chair Ken Martin, who also serves as a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, said despite this year’s alterations and limitations, delegates are as enthusiastic as he’s ever seen.

“People understand the stakes,” Martin said. “People are galvanized around our candidate and our party in ways that we haven’t seen in some time. So, I’m not worried about this being a virtual convention.”

Correction (Aug. 17, 2020): Zach Aaker was misidentified in a photo caption in an earlier version of this story.

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