A 2-D Roll Call – The New York Times


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Is it just me, or did last night’s Democratic National Committee broadcast have the feeling of a slightly strange, slightly strained telethon?

With no live audience to address, the actress Eva Longoria, the evening’s host, stood before a stage adorned with red, white, blue and aquamarine highlights, cuing speakers who beamed in via livestream.

What this telethon was selling, of course, is the ticket of Joe Biden —  who was described over the course of the night as empathetic, relatable and ready to lead on Day 1 — and his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris of California.

But what it was not selling felt even more important: four more years of President Trump, whom the speakers blamed for badly mismanaging the coronavirus crisis and turning his back on the movement for racial justice in the country.

As a writer, I split my time between covering politics and music, and yesterday’s broadcast highlighted something they have in common: the importance of connecting with your audience. In both realms, the interaction between the performer and the listener is what matters most.

A party convention without tens of thousands clapping their hands and waving placards is like a Rolling Stones show at Madison Square Garden without any listeners. The music would ring tinny and hollow, bouncing off the arena’s empty walls.

The D.N.C.’s planners clearly identified this problem: That’s why they included dozens of everyday Americans in the broadcast, cutting to them intermittently as they watched the convention via Zoom and applauded in between speeches. But those jump cuts only served to reinforce the uncanniness of the whole thing: solitary speakers over here, isolated audience members over there.

Ultimately, the major TV networks came out looking wise for deciding to broadcast only the second hour of the event, skipping over many of the lesser-known speakers and leaving viewers to wait through less uncanny convening before they got to the heavy hitters. Still, TV viewership was way down compared with the Democratic convention four years ago.

When it comes to simulating the interactive vibe of a normal convention, the Democrats have a tall task tonight. That’s because this evening features the roll call vote — the headiest and most photogenic moment of any convention, where delegates officially cast their votes to select their party’s nominee.

Typically, each state and U.S. territory’s delegation would be assembled on the convention floor, and the M.C. would call on them alphabetically, with state representatives responding on a microphone and announcing how many votes they were casting for each candidate.

Tonight, the D.N.C. will do its best to replicate the process virtually, in what it is calling the “Roll Call Across America.” In the course of 30 minutes — far less than the hour-and-a-half roll-call vote in 2016 — delegations will cast their votes virtually, calling in from all 57 states and territories, as they take a moment on national TV to strut their local style and show some regional pride.

Up first is Alabama. Its spokeswoman, Representative Terri Sewell, plans to invoke the memory of John Lewis, the Alabama-born civil rights leader, in calling for the restoration of the Voting Rights Act, according to materials circulated by the D.N.C. in advance of the event.

Both Mr. Biden and his runner-up, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, will be nominated. Mr. Sanders is expected to receive over 1,000 delegates based on the results of the primaries.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York will give a nominating speech for Mr. Sanders. Senator Chris Coons of Delaware will deliver one for Mr. Biden.

Among those scheduled to give individual speeches are two former presidents, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, and Mr. Biden’s wife, Jill Biden.

John Legend will close out the evening with a musical performance.

Things get going tonight at 9 p.m., and just like yesterday you can watch the entire thing and follow our reporters’ live analysis at nytimes.com. The major broadcast TV stations will air only the second half of the two-hour event. The same goes for Fox News, but CNN, MSNBC and PBS will show the full two-hour broadcast.

Mr. Sanders, the lion of the left, delivered a resounding endorsement of Mr. Biden’s candidacy last night. He ticked off a laundry list of liberal policies that his former foe has committed to enacting, including a $15 minimum wage and a plan to aggressively combat climate change. And he admonished his loyal supporters in no uncertain terms: “We need Joe Biden as our next president.”

But just moments before all of that, as a crew helped set up his livestream, he was fretting about where to place his hands on the podium, kidding with his wife and grinning, lemon-faced, for the camera: “Who’s gonna tell me? You gonna tell me? OK.”

How do we know all of this? Twitter, folks.

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