2020 Election Live Updates: Democrats Drastically Cut Their Convention in Milwaukee


The Democratic convention is shrinking and rebranding — as the ‘Convention Across America.’

Democrats’ original plans for their 2020 convention in Milwaukee called for a crowd of more than 50,000 delegates, journalists, party officials and V.I.P.s. But as the coronavirus spread this spring and the convention was pushed back to August, the number dwindled.

First to 5,000 attendees. Then, a mere 1,000.

Now, less than a month before the party is set to gather, officials are expecting the quadrennial event to include as few as 300 people, Reid J. Epstein and Lisa Lerer report. That number includes not only attendees but also members of the news media, security personnel, medical consultants and party workers.

Every aspect of the four-day convention, scheduled to begin Aug. 17, has been scaled back. A program of five to six hours of daily speeches, engineered to draw heavy television coverage for Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his vice-presidential nominee, will be cut down closer to three hours each night. Much of the program is likely to be pretaped videos, according to people familiar with the planning.

On Thursday evening, convention planners sent an email directing all members of Congress and delegates to stay away from the convention.

None of the Democratic presidential candidates who appeared on a primary debate stage this year have plans to travel to Milwaukee, according to aides, nor do former President Bill Clinton or Hillary Clinton, though all said they would do whatever the campaign and party requested.

As of this week, only Mr. Biden and Tom Perez, the Democratic National Committee chairman, are committed to come to Milwaukee, although party officials said the program was still being written. They’ve even given the event a new slogan to reflect the change: “Convention Across America.”

A Biden presidency, Mr. Trump said, would bring chaos to the streets of America, embolden socialists, raise taxes and destroy the economy. It would, in his words, empower Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Thursday was a recitation of charges of plagiarism against Mr. Biden. The next chapter comes today, when Mike Pence, the vice president, heads to Ripon, Wis., to talk about “the Trump administration’s ongoing commitment to a pro-growth agenda and the rejection of socialist policies.”

These attacks come as Mr. Trump trails farther behind Mr. Biden than he has been at any point in the campaign. Even if the polls were in error as much as they were heading into the 2016 election, Mr. Biden would still win a convincing victory in November.

All of this raises two questions. The first is whether this is all part of some grand plan by the Trump campaign, and it had always intended to unleash these attacks on Mr. Biden now, in the middle of July. That seems unlikely for several reasons: Mr. Trump demoted his campaign manager, Brad Parscale, this week. And the sheer diversity, and occasional oddity, of the attacks — a Biden presidency would mean the end of the suburbs and windows — suggest that they are not the product of some finely honed focus-group strategy.

The other question is how Mr. Biden reacts to the barrage — or if he does. Many Democrats say he should ignore it, arguing that after four years of Mr. Trump’s attacks, many Americans are doing the same. The experience of John F. Kerry and Michael S. Dukakis, two losing Democratic presidential candidates, would argue that this is a road to take with caution.

Trump’s ‘abysmal polling’ is damaging Republicans’ chances in House races, a nonpartisan analysis suggests.

House Democrats are picking up more momentum in their effort to protect their majority — and could even pick up seats in November — according to new projections by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, citing polling showing Mr. Trump is dragging down Republicans in races across the country.

In a new analysis published Friday, the political handicappers moved their ratings in 20 congressional races in favor of Democrats, asserting that they have “at least as good a chance at gaining House seats as Republicans on a net basis” for the first time this cycle.

Republicans began the cycle hoping they could win an uphill battle to reclaim the House, or at least regain some of the ground they had lost in 2018, when they lost control of the chamber. But as Mr. Trump continues his slide in the polls, with voters signaling their dissatisfaction with his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, and Democratic incumbents and candidates posting staggering fund-raising numbers, that path has become increasingly difficult.

They are now on the defensive in battlegrounds throughout the nation, especially in suburban districts that were once Republican strongholds.

Given Mr. Trump’s “abysmal polling,” wrote David Wasserman, the Cook report’s editor for House races, “We may be approaching the point at which dozens of House Republicans will need to decide whether to cut the president loose and run on a ‘check and balance’ message, offering voters insurance against congressional Democrats moving too far left under a potential Biden administration.”

Democrats are working to seize the momentum.

“What we’re hearing about is this irresponsibility and unpredictability of what is coming from the Trump administration,” Representative Cheri Bustos of Illinois, the chairwoman of the House Democrats’ campaign arm, said of swing-district voters in an interview with The New York Times. “People are very, very tired of the division.”

Ohio seemed like a red state. Now Biden has an opening there.

At the start of this campaign cycle, Ohio was looking like a lost cause for Democrats, after Mr. Trump’s convincing victory in a state that the party had twice carried under Barack Obama.

But now, unexpectedly, Ohio looms as a tantalizing opportunity for Mr. Biden.

Two prominent polls of the state last month showed the presidential race in a statistical tie. Turnout in the Ohio primary elections in April was higher for Democrats than Republicans for the first time in a dozen years, evidence of enthusiasm in the Democratic base. And the Trump campaign recently booked $18.4 million in fall TV ads in Ohio — a sign that Mr. Trump is on the defensive there.

“The definition of Trump being in trouble is that he’s forced to spend $18 million on TV in Ohio and he’s mired in a battle for his life here,” said David Pepper, the chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party.

Still, for all of Democrats’ optimism, the Buckeye State just might be an illusion in the mists. Not only did Mr. Trump win handily in 2016, but Democrats also fell short in the 2018 midterm elections in Ohio compared with their gains in the “blue wall” states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Corry Bliss, a Republican strategist who has worked in Ohio, said the election would turn on how voters feel about jobs and the economy in October. “At the end of the day, President Trump will win Ohio,” he said. “It’ll be closer than it was in 2016. The question is, how does that translate to Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania?”

The breach by a hacker or hackers who bored into the command center of Twitter on Wednesday — seizing control of Mr. Biden’s and Barack Obama’s blue-checked accounts, among many others — served as a warning that some of the most critical infrastructure that could influence the election is not in the hands of government experts, and is far less protected than anyone assumed even a couple of days ago.

The hackers probably did the nation a favor, carrying out a crude scheme aimed at making money via Bitcoin in the middle of July.

Had the saboteurs infiltrated Twitter on Nov. 3 instead, with the goal of upending the election, the political fallout could have been quite different. False warnings of a coronavirus outbreak in key precincts in Wisconsin or Pennsylvania could have untold impact on a close vote in a battleground state. Deceptive tweets from political party accounts saying polling places were closed could sow confusion.

Or imagine a fake declaration, under Mr. Biden’s account, that he was dropping out of the race — a nightmare scenario for Democrats that some federal officials said they were talking about hypothetically among themselves on Wednesday night as the scope of Twitter’s failure became clear.

John Hultquist, the senior director of intelligence analysis at FireEye, one of the leading cybersecurity firms, said his team was “very concerned about the possibility of real foreign actors hijacking legitimate sources of information — key media accounts for instance — and using that to push out disinformation” close to Election Day.

“By the time we unwind everything to figure out what happened, it could be too late,” he added. “That’s a very real scenario.”

It took a pandemic for New York officials to more fully embrace absentee voting by mail, fearful that a traditional Primary Day trip to the polls could spark a second wave of the coronavirus.

Instead, it has sparked chaos.

More than three weeks after the June 23 primaries, elections officials have failed to count an untold number of mail-in absentee ballots, leaving numerous closely watched races unresolved, including three key Democratic congressional contests.

The absentee ballot count — greatly inflated this year because the state expanded the vote-by-mail option because of the pandemic — has been painstakingly slow, with no running account of the vote totals available.

In some cases, the tiny number of ballots counted has bordered on the absurd: In the 12th Congressional District, where Representative Carolyn B. Maloney is fighting for her political life against the challenger Suraj Patel, only 800 of some 65,000 absentee ballots had been tabulated as of Wednesday, according to Mr. Patel.

Two other young insurgent candidates, Jamaal Bowman and Ritchie Torres, held commanding leads in their House races after a count of machine-cast ballots on Primary Night, yet both men are still awaiting an absentee ballot count before they can declare victory.

The main reason for the delays is the sheer number of absentee ballots: In New York City, 403,203 ballots were mailed for the June primary; as a comparison, just 76,258 absentee and military ballots were counted in the 2008 general election, when Barack Obama was elected president.

“While I appreciate the public’s desire to know the results, at the end of the process we must insure the integrity of the elections and the accuracy of the results,” said Michael Ryan, the executive director of the New York City Board of Elections.

Coronavirus cases have been rising steadily for a month, giving pollsters enough time to take a read on how Americans have responded to the virus’s resurgence.

What do the latest polls tell us?

First, that despite the Trump administration’s not-so-quiet whisper campaign to cast doubt on Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, 65 percent of the country still says it has faith in him, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday.

But Republicans, who as recently as May expressed more trust in Dr. Fauci, have now grown more skeptical. Fifty-two percent now said they did not trust the doctor on the pandemic, according to the Quinnipiac poll, and just 39 percent said they did.

The polls also suggest that Mr. Trump’s numbers are down for core groups. Even for self-identified Republicans — who continue to express overwhelming approval of the president’s performance — confidence in his handling of the pandemic has been shaken. His approval rating specifically on the virus dipped below 80 percent among Republicans in both the Quinnipiac poll and an ABC News/Ipsos poll last week.

Just 51 percent of white voters without a college degree told Quinnipiac interviewers that they approved of his job performance over all, down from 60 percent a month ago. Among white evangelicals, approval of Mr. Trump’s job performance had dropped to 70 percent, a 10-percentage-point drop from a May Quinnipiac poll.

By a 14-point margin, voters said in a CNBC poll last month that they thought Mr. Biden would do a better job handling the pandemic than Mr. Trump.

In a normal year, we would not be writing about a celebrity’s unconfirmed candidacy for an office for which he is too late to get on the ballot in some states. We don’t even know if the documents filed with the Federal Election Commission under Kanye West’s name this week are actually from him, because the F.E.C. doesn’t verify the legitimacy of the information in such filings.

But this is 2020, and random pieces of knowledge that you never thought you’d need are suddenly of interest. So let’s talk about campaign filing procedures. Why not?

Earlier this month, Mr. West, the rapper, designer and entrepreneur, said he was renouncing his past support for President Trump and running for president himself. Less than two weeks later, an adviser said he wasn’t running after all. Then Mr. West, or at least someone purporting to represent him, filed two forms with the F.E.C.: a statement of organization on Wednesday, and a statement of candidacy on Thursday. An F.E.C. spokesman confirmed that the agency had received the filings.

These are “the normal steps that serious candidates take,” said Michael Beckel, research director at Issue One, a campaign watchdog group. And technically, they do make Mr. West an official presidential candidate — along with 1,144 other people as of Thursday afternoon, according to the F.E.C.’s database. Among these official candidates are Tossup C.I. Bot; Big Chungus; Kanye Deez Nutz West, presumably not to be confused with Kanye West; and Your Mom.

Pretty much anyone can file a statement of organization or candidacy. The forms are very simple, requiring no legal or political expertise to complete. And the F.E.C.’s job is to enforce campaign finance laws, so it has no reason to vet or verify candidates who aren’t raising or spending money.

Candidates are not required to register with the F.E.C. unless they have raised or spent more than $5,000, but “there is nothing that prohibits someone who hasn’t raised or spent that amount of money from filing,” Paul S. Ryan, vice president of policy and litigation at Common Cause, said. “That’s why you see hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of not serious candidates, and to some extent completely fake or joke candidates.”

Reporting was contributed by Nick Corasaniti, Catie Edmonson, Reid J. Epstein, Luis Ferré-Sadurní, Trip Gabriel, Lisa Lerer, Jesse McKinley, Adam Nagourney, Nicole Perlroth, Giovanni Russonello and David Sanger.



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