Possibility of virtual conventions could lead to loss of revenue and spectacle

Published: Apr. 21, 2020 at 8:26 AM CDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) – Winning the official presidential nomination is the moment candidates hope for at their national party convention.

Thousands of delegates, surrogates and media together in one place for a week every four years. But the coronavirus could change that for 2020.

“I don’t think anybody’s kidding themselves that it’s going to be different,” said Steve Baas of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce.

Democrats already postponed their convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin by a month. It’s estimated to bring tens of millions in revenue to the host city. Baas said the week-long event could have a real impact on businesses hurting right now.

“To have [the Democratic National Convention] here would be a real shot in the arm that might help some of those companies,” Baas said.

But it might not be the summer the city of Milwaukee planned for. Even the presumptive Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, thinks it’s possible the convention could break tradition and go virtual.

“We’ve never seen a change like this,” said Elaine Kamarck of the Brookings Institution.

Kamarck is an expert in electoral politics. She's been to ten Democratic National Conventions.

“When delegates at a convention vote, by and large, their votes are known ahead of time,” Kamarck said. “And it’s not a secret ballot.”

Kamarck said because of that, delegates could likely vote online. But there would be one big element missing in a virtual convention.

“The pure spectacle of it,” Kamarck said. “And a little bit of the drama.”

And the drama is what makes the political conventions so memorable.

The Democratic National Convention is still scheduled to kick off on August 17 in Milwaukee. The Republicans plan to hold their convention the next week in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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