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Joe Biden, other speakers will not attend DNC in Milwaukee, citing COVID-19 concerns

From the Follow the Wisconsin State Journal's 2020 presidential election coverage series
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Vice President Joe Biden will not attend the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee later this month, dealing another COVID-19-related blow to the delayed and downsized event.

In addition, President Donald Trump said Wednesday he’ll likely deliver his Republican convention acceptance speech from the White House after coronavirus concerns and restrictions resulted in canceled events planned for North Carolina and Florida.

The Democratic National Convention Committee on Wednesday announced that Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, will accept the party’s nomination from Delaware, the former vice president’s home state. Other speakers who had been planning to attend the convention will no longer be traveling to Milwaukee, as the event shifts to an almost entirely online format.

“While we wish we could move forward with welcoming the world to beautiful Milwaukee in two weeks, we recognize protecting the health of our host community and everyone involved with this convention must be paramount,” said Joe Solmonese, CEO of the 2020 Democratic National Convention. He described 2020 as “a year of once-in-a-lifetime challenges and changes.”

Reactions from Wisconsin Democrats to Wednesday’s announcement ranged from frustration to understanding, while state Republicans compared Biden’s decision to 2016, when then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton famously did not visit the state. She ultimately lost the Badger State to Trump by about 23,000 votes.

“Now that Joe Biden is formally abandoning the city of Milwaukee and the state of Wisconsin, it’s becoming clear that Democrats have not learned from their mistakes in 2016 and are poised to repeat them again in 2020,” Andrew Hitt, chairman of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, said in a statement.

Trump Victory spokeswoman Anna Kelly also said “Biden is repeating the mistakes of the 2016 campaign.”

Biden and his campaign have held online events in Wisconsin, but he has not yet visited the state. Trump and members of his administration, including Vice President Mike Pence, have made multiple trips to Wisconsin this year.

“I think that provides a stark contrast and shows how committed President Trump and Republicans are to the Midwest and how the Democrats seem to be leaving us behind,” said Alesha Guenther, spokeswoman for the Republican Party of Wisconsin. “President Trump and Vice President Pence have made it increasingly clear that they’re committed to doing everything they can to win this state, so I would certainly expect that we’re going to continue to see them visit.”

White House stage?

However, questions also have lingered surrounding the Republican National Convention, which was originally slated for Charlotte, North Carolina, until Trump clashed with the state’s Democratic governor over pandemic-related restrictions. Trump moved the convention to Jacksonville, Florida, but later canceled that plan following a surge in positive coronavirus cases.

During a Wednesday interview with Fox News Channel’s “Fox and Friends,” Trump said he is considering delivering the GOP convention’s acceptance speech from the White House.

Such a move would mark an unprecedented use of public property for partisan political purposes, and congressional leaders in both parties publicly doubted Trump could go ahead with the plan. Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said flatly that he “can’t do that.”

“I think it’s a beautiful setting, and we are thinking about that,” Trump said. “It’s certainly one of the alternatives.”

He said the convention will be a mix of virtual events and live speeches, including his remarks and a speech by first lady Melania Trump.

The Republican National Convention is scheduled for Aug. 24-27. Trump is to be formally nominated on Aug. 24 in Charlotte, but the venue for his speech accepting the nomination has been up in the air.

Pelosi said overtly political events aren’t held at the Capitol or the White House, and accused Trump of trying to divert attention from his handling of the coronavirus.

“He can’t do that,” she said on MSNBC. “You can’t do that.”

Unconventional convention

Milwaukee was announced more than a year ago as the host city for the 2020 DNC, with Democrats anticipating that Wisconsin — a longstanding battleground state — could play a deciding role in the presidential race.

However, a convention that once anticipated more than 50,000 visitors and hundreds of millions in tourism dollars has been repeatedly downsized as positive cases of COVID-19 continue to mount in Wisconsin and the nation. The convention was postponed from July to August and has shifted to what is anticipated to be an entirely online format.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who officially endorsed Biden earlier this week, said in a statement Wednesday that Democrats remain committed to putting health and safety first.

“It has never been more important for elected officials to lead by example — that’s the kind of leader Joe is, and that’s the kind of president we need,” Evers said. “I know he will continue to have a presence in Wisconsin, virtually or otherwise, and I look forward to doing everything we can to win Wisconsin.”

‘Small adjustment’

Wisconsin’s seven-day average of daily positive COVID-19 cases has dipped in recent days, down from 930 on July 26 to 841 on Wednesday, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. The virus has killed 970 Wisconsinites and infected almost 57,000 people across the state.

“From the very beginning of this pandemic, we put the health and safety of the American people first,” DNC chairman Tom Perez said in a statement. “We followed the science, listened to doctors and public health experts, and we continued making adjustments to our plans in order to protect lives.”

Wednesday’s announcement was described by the DNC as “a small adjustment” to the overall plan. The majority of speeches were already planned to take place in different locations across the country. The four-day event will include both prerecorded segments and live broadcasts.

Last month, DNC officials announced everyone attending the convention would have to wear a face mask, consent to daily testing for COVID-19, fill out questionnaires and maintain physical distance from other attendees. Visitors also will have to self-isolate for at least 72 hours before entering the convention.

State Journal reporter Elizabeth Beyer and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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