2020 Elections

DNC insists its convention is on — but many Democrats aren't buying it

“It is full speed ahead until a staffer yells ‘Iceberg,’” said one committee member who believes that time is likely coming.

Milwaukee

The Democratic National Committee insists its July convention is going forward as planned — even as Democrats across the country are increasingly skeptical it will happen.

“There are no plans to cancel the convention and we are not considering a rules change at this time,” Xochitl Hinojosa, the DNC’s communications director, said Monday after news reports that the party is in the process of devising backup plans. “Contingency planning is a routine part of preparations for any convention.”

Hinojosa’s statement came the same day an International Olympic Committee member, Dick Pound, told USA Today Sports that the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games will be postponed. The Olympics were scheduled to begin in late July, shortly after the DNC’s July 13-16 gathering.

There are nearly four months until the convention, many Democrats note. But planned walk-throughs of the convention site in Milwaukee have been delayed, according to multiple Democratic sources, and many convention organizing staffers are working from home.

“Given what the experts are saying, delegates may end up on a phone call” selecting their nominee, Bob Mulholland, a DNC member from California, said in a text message. “Push 1 for Sanders, push 2 for Biden, push 3 for Bloomberg and push 8 for Yang, etc.”

Still, Mulholland said of the convention’s prospects, “It is full speed ahead until a staffer yells ‘Iceberg.’”

The DNC's steady-as-she-goes posture stands in contrast to some of its own state parties. Wisconsin Democratic Party officials said they're busy trying to figure out all the digital tools they need to be virtual for their state convention in June, just a month before the national convention in the state.

Democrats could pursue a range of options if a traditional convention is not possible, including postponing the gathering or changing the rules to allow delegates to vote remotely.

If the convention had to be canceled, said Matt Bennett of the center-left group Third Way, the alternative could be relatively straightforward. Think video meetings, absentee voting and “a bunch of speeches that are televised from studios.”

But he said that even if Democratic Party officials were considering altering the convention, they could not hint at that until a decision is made, for fear of scaring off donors and other attendees.

“If the DNC even intimated that they’re not having a convention, then we’re not having a convention,” he said. “I think it’s truly up in the air.”

Behind the scenes, the DNC has made some moves that acknowledge the precarious situation, including researching what are the bare minimum of procedures that must occur — either in Milwaukee or virtually — in order to officially nominate a candidate, according to one official familiar with the conversations.

Questions about the convention were reignited on Monday, when Katie Peters, communications director of the Democratic National Convention Committee, said the DNC is “exploring a range of contingency options to ensure we can deliver a successful convention without unnecessary risk to public health.”

Shortly after issuing that statement, officials cast that posture as no different from what they've been saying for weeks, long before the coronavirus pandemic fully took hold. Two weeks ago, the DNC’s convention committee said “every convention necessitates developing a number of contingency plans to provide for a variety of scenarios.”

The Republican National Committee has been similarly insistent that its convention is going according to plan, especially given that it doesn't begin until Aug. 24.

The Democratic convention is also more complicated than the Republican one because of the state of the ongoing primary. Joe Biden is almost certain to become the nominee, and any large changes to the convention would likely have to be signed off on by his campaign. People involved in convention planning have begun referring some questions to the Biden campaign.

Yet Bernie Sanders has not dropped out of the race, and Biden has yet to secure the delegates necessary to claim the nomination outright.

The Biden campaign declined to comment on the state of the convention. Meanwhile, the electorate is in seclusion, and the presidential campaign has been reduced to flickers on a livestream.