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Coronavirus concerns prompt Democrats to move convention from July to August

Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden.
Bernie Sanders, left, and Joe Biden.
(Paul Sancya, Charlie Neibergall / Associated Press)

The Democratic National Convention has been delayed until Aug. 17 because of the coronavirus sweeping the country.

“In our current climate of uncertainty, we believe the smartest approach is to take additional time to monitor how this situation unfolds so we can best position our party for a safe and successful convention,” Joe Solmonese, chief executive of the convention, said Thursday.

“During this critical time, when the scope and scale of the pandemic and its impact remain unknown, we will continue to monitor the situation and follow the advice of healthcare professionals and emergency responders,” Solmonese said.

The move comes after Joe Biden, the likely nominee, expressed doubts this week about whether the convention could go on as scheduled, July 13-16.

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“I think it’s going to have to move into August,” Biden told NBC late-night comedian Jimmy Fallon on Wednesday. “You just have to be prepared for the alternative, and the alternative — we don’t know what it’s going to be.”

The delay is another example of how the global pandemic, which has caused the deaths of nearly 5,000 Americans, has upended political life. Fifteen states have delayed their primaries because of the contagious virus that causes COVID-19. Candidates have stopped holding rallies and have turned to creative ways to get their messages out that do not involve large gatherings of voters.

The convention will still take place in Milwaukee, but is now scheduled to occur the week before the GOP meets on Aug. 24-27 to nominate President Trump.

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Republican officials say they are not changing their dates.

“We are fully committed to holding the Republican convention in Charlotte as planned and re-nominating President Trump,” said Rick Gorka, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee.

The national party is providing legal and technical advice to state GOP parties to make sure they can nominate delegates and complete other tasks — sometimes remotely or electronically — that must be done before the convention.

Party conventions draw thousands of delegates, activists and donors. The nomination process is largely a done deal — for Democrats, Joe Biden has an all but insurmountable lead in delegates compared to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. But the pageantry of the conventions and the prime-time television speeches give the parties and the nominees the opportunity to make their case to millions of voters in the kickoff for the general election.

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“The conventions are a great opportunity to spend a whole week celebrating your nominee, and get an unlimited bandwidth in terms of media,” said Ken Martin, chairman of the Minnesota Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party and head of the Assn. of State Democratic Committees. “You’ll get the unifying factor, bringing things to closure after a bruising and unprecedented nominating process. It’s more important this year than in the past.”

However, some Democrats argued that the party should heed the warnings of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top medical expert on the coronavirus pandemic.

“Hosting an in-person convention in August when medical experts like Dr Fauci are predicting a second wave of covid-19 in the fall would be the height of irresponsibility for any party,” Lis Smith, a top advisor to former presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, tweeted on Thursday.

Times staff writer Janet Hook in Washington contributed to this report.


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