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DNC 2020: Biden, Obama and other top takeaways

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden and his running mate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., watch fireworks during the fourth day of the Democratic National Convention, Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020, at the Chase Center in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
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Joe Biden got his moment this week — five decades in the making — “to make hope and history rhyme” as he accepted the Democratic presidential nomination.

An unprecedented four-day Democratic National Convention concluded Thursday night with Democratic factions broadly united behind Biden and his running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris.

The telecast featured segments filmed across the country because the coronavirus pandemic forced convention planners to scrap their plans to hold a massive gathering in Milwaukee.

Next week, Republicans will answer with their own convention nominating President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence for a second term.

Here are 11 takeaways from this year’s DNC:

Democrats want you to know Biden cares and Trump does not. That was the simple, cohesive message that Democrats communicated over four nights. It was a strategic choice for Democrats to seek to make the election about character. Every segment — including those focused on policy — questioned the humanity of Trump’s actions and framed the election as what Biden called a “battle for the soul of our nation.”

“I will draw on the best of us, not the worst. I will be an ally of the light, not of the darkness,” Biden said Thursday night.

Connecting through grief. The tragedies of Biden’s life — the death of his first wife and daughter weeks after he was elected to the Senate in 1972; the death of his son and presumed political heir Beau Biden of brain cancer in 2015 — were a focal point all week, as Biden’s friends and family sought to convey how the lessons he had learned in overcoming grief could help guide a nation facing a pandemic that has left more than 174,000 Americans dead.

“How do you make a broken family whole? The same way you make a nation whole,” Biden’s wife Jill Biden said Tuesday. “With love and understanding, and with small acts of compassion; with bravery; with unwavering faith.”

Everyone will remember the Obamas. The convention was about Biden and Harris, but the former president holding back tears as he warned democracy is on the brink in Philadelphia and the former first lady’s somber evisceration of Trump provided two of the DNC’s most poignant moments — ones that will likely reverberate through the remainder of the campaign.

“Do not let them take away your democracy,” Barack Obama pleaded.

“Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country. He has had more than enough time to prove that he can do the job, but he is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet this moment. He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us,” Michelle Obama said. “It is what it is.”

Harris has the baton now. Biden has called himself a bridge to a new generation of Democratic leaders, and this week showed that Harris will have a firm claim to becoming that new generation’s first leader.

That’s perhaps no surprise, since she’s Biden’s vice presidential pick. But no vice president in the last two decades, including Biden, has been seen as the future leader of a party. The week positioned Harris as a successor to Obama’s history-making legacy, with Biden as their link.

It was, at times, a Republicans for Biden convention. Or at least that’s how progressives saw it. Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former Secretary of State Colin Powell and other Republicans got time.

But the most confounding presence was former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has been a Republican and an independent and briefly ran for president as a Democrat, in the final night’s final hour. Bloomberg launched his campaign on the premise that Biden couldn’t win; he then was roasted by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren on the debate stage and, after dropping out, has been accused of failing to live up to his financial commitments to his staffers and the Democratic Party.

Rising Democratic stars were showcased in montages that underscored the party’s diversity overall, but did not elevate any individual — a reality made more glaring by Bloomberg’s presence in the lineup for the final hour of the convention’s final night.

But the left’s leading 2020 candidates gave Biden their full-throated support. Despite the grumbling about Republicans’ role, Biden united the Democratic Party in a way Hillary Clinton didn’t in 2016. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Warren gave speeches strongly supporting him. It underscored how Democrats are broadly setting ideology aside, at least for now, to mobilize against Trump.

“If Donald Trump is reelected, all the progress we have made will be in jeopardy,” Sanders said.

There was some criticism about Latino representation. Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham — two Latinas — were among the convention’s speakers. But some progressives complained on social media that former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, who ran unsuccessfully in the primary, didn’t have a slot in the lineup.

Castro was offered spots in two videos that featured other 2020 Democratic presidential contenders, including one that aired Thursday night, but declined both invitations, a source familiar with the convention planning said.

There were missed opportunities. A whole generation of Democratic officials is used to making its case to voters over phones, with viewers watching online, rather than feeding off audiences in person.

New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Instagram livestreams draw huge audiences. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker’s casual Facebook Live on the steps of the Capitol in 2017, featuring John Lewis, was one of the most memorable moments of that year’s health care fight. Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke rose to prominence as a result of his livestreams during a Senate run.

They were perfectly suited for the moment, but Democrats largely didn’t tap into their skills to extend the convention into less formal, away-from-the-TV settings. Booker moderated a brief panel of 2020 candidates discussing Biden and their memories from the campaign trail — but a live or extended version online could have drawn a big audience of those candidates’ supporters.

Still, the format largely worked. And it’s hard to imagine parties going back — at least fully — to the conventions of the past. The roll call showcasing all 57 states and territories seemed the most likely element to stick. It showcased the diversity and geography of the country, and featured memorable moments — some that drew laughter, like the Rhode Island chef who touted his state’s calamari, and some that brought tears, like the parents of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man who was beaten to death in 1998, in Wyoming.

The biggest reason why: Real people. Instead of a four-day parade of party officials, Democrats were able to highlight people like 11-year-old Estela Juarez, whose father, a Marine veteran, voted for Trump, and whose undocumented mother was deported by Trump’s administration. “Instead of protecting us, you tore our world apart,” she said.

Another key moment was delivered by Kristin Urquiza, whose father died after contracting coronavirus. “My dad was a healthy 65-year-old,” Urquiza said. “His only pre-existing condition was trusting Donald Trump, and for that he paid with his life.”

And Brayden Harrington, a 13-year-old boy who stutters, bravely recalled how Biden, who also overcame a stutter, showed him how he marks up his own speeches with breaks when the two met in New Hampshire.

They were also able to create gripping moments with videos featuring former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords, the victim of a 2011 mass shooting, who played a French horn and delivered a speech she’d practiced for months, and activist Ady Barkan, who has ALS, that couldn’t have been conveyed as effectively in a traditional convention setting.

Democrats effectively used celebrity. Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry and singer Billie Eilish have real cultural cachet with young voters. And other celebrity appearances — Dominican-American singer Prince Royce winding through the murals of Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood while performing “Stand By Me,” for example — made the convention more watchable than the in-person versions of the past.

Moderators with television experience — particularly Tracee Ellis Ross on Tuesday night — helped keep up the pace. The weakest moments came Thursday night, with a series of dissonant jokes from Julia Louis-Dreyfus — including one in which she followed a heartfelt video in which Biden discussed his faith and how it would guide him in office by joking that Biden attends church regularly enough “that he doesn’t even need tear gas and a bunch of federalized troops to help him get there.”