Joe Biden was officially chosen as the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential nominee Tuesday night during the party’s mostly pretaped, virtual convention.
Instead of a traditional roll call vote, where Democrats from each state and territory boast about the place they’re representing and announce how many delegates they have for the nominee, the party this year formally nominated Biden with pretaped segments. The roll call went alphabetically through the 57 states, territories and the Democrats Abroad delegation, with Alabama leading off.
Biden drew on party elders Tuesday night, making the case he and his party are positioned with experience and expertise to repair the chaos they say President Donald Trump has created at home and abroad.
Former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, former Secretary of State John Kerry and former Republican Secretary of State Colin Powell were among Tuesday night’s featured speakers.
“Donald Trump says we’re leading the world. Well, we are the only major industrial economy to have its unemployment rate triple,” Clinton said. “At a time like this, the Oval Office should be a command center. Instead, it’s a storm center. There’s only chaos.”
On a night that Biden was formally receiving his party’s presidential nomination, the convention was also introducing his wife, Jill Biden, to the nation as the prospective first lady. Biden’s running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, will become the first woman of color to accept a major party’s vice presidential nomination on Wednesday.
For a second night, Democrats featured Republicans.
Powell, who served as secretary of state under George W. Bush and appeared at multiple Republican conventions in years past, was endorsing the Democratic candidate. In a video released ahead of his speech, he said, “Our country needs a commander in chief who takes care of our troops in the same way he would his own family. For Joe Biden, that doesn’t need teaching.”
Powell joined the widow of the late Arizona Sen. John McCain, Cindy McCain, who was expected to talk about the mutual respect and friendship her husband and Biden shared.
While there have been individual members of the opposing party featured at presidential conventions before, a half dozen Republicans, including the former two-term governor of Ohio, have now spoken for Biden.
Biden is leading Trump in most polls but 77 days before the election, is seeing a tightening race in others.
Tuesday’s speaking program underscored Biden’s challenge to inspire a new generation of voters. Clinton, who turns 74 on Tuesday, hasn’t held office in two decades. Kerry, 76, was the Democratic presidential nominee back in 2004 when the youngest voters this fall were still in diapers. And Carter is 95 years old.
By contrast, one of the party’s most popular figures among young voters, fiery progressive New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, was given just one minute to speak.
Biden’s team did not give the night’s coveted keynote address to a single fresh face, preferring instead to pack the slot with more than a dozen Democrats in their 20s, 30s and 40s. The younger leaders included former Georgia state Rep. Stacey Abrams, Rep. Conor Lamb., D-Pa., and the president of the Navajo Nation Jonathan Nez.
Viewers also heard from Sally Yates, the former acting attorney general who resisted Trump’s order to block Muslim immigrants from entering the United States but isn’t viewed as a liberal activist.
Preliminary estimates show television viewership for the first night of the Democrats’ virtual convention was sharply down compared to the opening of Hillary Clinton’s nominating party four years ago.
An estimated 19.7 million people watched coverage between 10 and 11 p.m. on some 10 different television networks, the Nielsen company said. Four years ago, opening night drew just under 26 million viewers.
Broadcast networks were hit hardest by the changed format. NBC’s telecast drew 2.28 million viewers, down from 4.29 million four years ago, Nielsen said. ABC reached 2.44 million people on Monday, compared to 4.13 million.
The left-leaning MSNBC, where Rachel Maddow, Joy Reid and Nicolle Wallace were anchors, led the way Monday with 5.1 million viewers, up from four years ago. CNN had 4.78 million. Unlike the broadcasters, the two cable networks ran the Democrats' production nearly in its entirety.
Fox News Channel's audience was unimpressed; the 2.1 million viewers it reached for its hour of convention coverage compared poorly with the 3.4 million viewers that time slot occupant Laura Ingraham had on an average July day. Earlier in the evening, Fox kept to its regular lineup with Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity criticizing the Biden campaign, instead of showing news coverage of the convention.
Veteran television producer Don Mischer, whose credits include the Oscars, the Emmys and the 2004 Democratic national convention, said that while the convention's first night was well-produced, it suffered from the lack of a live audience.
While Obama "hit a home run" with her speech, "had that been done in front of the crowd, with the crowd's emotion getting stronger and stronger as she went through that speech, by the time she got to the end, there would have been a rush of palpable emotion that would have resonated with people many times greater than what came across," he said.
Democrats — along with Republicans who will hold their convention next week — were forced into the new format due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.