5 takeaways from Night 2 of the Democratic convention

Rep. Dina Titus announces the Nevada delegates' choice for the presidential nominee during the virtual convention.
Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) announces the Nevada delegates’ choice for the presidential nominee during the virtual convention.
(DNCC via Getty Images)

For four months, Joe Biden has been the presumptive Democratic nominee for president. On Tuesday, that qualifier was dropped as Biden officially was nominated.

The milestone, which Biden first sought more than 30 years ago, was marked by a slickly produced evening of virtual convention programming, in which Democrats featured party elders as well as up-and-comers and plenty of Trump bashing.

Here’s what you need to know about the DNC’s second night.

An ‘only in 2020’ roll call

Perhaps even more than the first night, Tuesday’s prime-time Democratic convention had an “only in 2020” vibe. The all-virtual format, reflecting the year’s singular blend of catastrophe — the global pandemic, a limping economy, civic unrest around racial justice — upended the timeworn tradition of a raucous roll call of the states to nominate the presidential candidate.

Gone were the scenes of delegates in funny hats pressed cheek-by-jowl around their state spokespersons as each state was called, in alphabetical order, to announce its votes. That didn’t mean the proceedings were completely devoid of the pageantry that political junkies have come to expect. The roll call, as Democratic Party chair Tom Perez acknowledged, was “unconventional,” beaming in footage from across the nation’s 57 states and territories.

VIDEO | 07:06
Watch states nominate Joe Biden as the Democratic presidential candidate

Watch as all 57 U.S. states and territories, from American Samoa to Delaware, nominate Joe Biden as the official Democratic presidential candidate.

But first came the nominating speeches for Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the primary rival who racked up the second-largest number of delegates. Each speaker was aired from a different location.

The first of three people to nominate Biden was herself an unorthodox choice: Jacquelyn Brittany, a security guard in the New York Times headquarters who blurted out her love for Biden when they shared an elevator last December. The encounter, which was captured on film, soon went viral. “Joe Biden has room in his heart for more than just himself,” said Brittany, calling him her “friend.”

Catch a rising star

A convention’s keynote address can be a prime launchpad for political up-and-comers — just ask Barack Obama, whose 2004 speech as a state senator propelled him to the U.S. Senate and then the White House in just four years.

This year, in a first, the address was divvied up among 17 of the party’s younger, fresh faces: a mix of members of Congress from swing districts, state legislators, a county commissioner, state agriculture commissioner and mayors — most from battleground states — as well as the president of the Navajo Nation. The jump-cut compilation of multiple people speaking from the same script let Democrats show off the diversity of their party — and gave viewers a glimpse of politicians’ living rooms and kitchens.

But the patchwork approach meant that no single politician got the breakout moment that mattered so much to Obama. Even Stacey Abrams — the former Georgia gubernatorial candidate who has forged a national profile in her push for voting rights, and was among those Biden considered for his running mate — got just a few extra minutes to cap off the keynote address, an elevated role but hardly a memorable one.

The convention has come under scrutiny by some in the party for giving some of its most recognizable young stars short shrift. New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a progressive firebrand, got just over one minute to speak, in nominating her political hero, Sen. Sanders.

VIDEO | 01:45
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez nominates Bernie Sanders at DNC

Biden’s security credentials

The first night of the convention included some strenuous courting of Republicans who may feel weary of Trump, but wary of voting for a Democrat. Tuesday’s programming continued to extend the welcome.

The bipartisan appeal focused largely on foreign policy, for which Biden is well-known, given his experience as the longtime chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and President Obama’s vice president. Colin Powell, secretary of State under President George W. Bush, made his first appearance at a Democratic convention (although he has backed Democratic presidential candidates in the past) to tout Biden as far superior to Trump to be commander in chief.

VIDEO | 02:43
DNC: Colin Powell joins Democrats in backing Biden

Colin Powell, a Republican former U.S. secretary of State, supports Democrat Joe Biden for president.

“Joe Biden will be a president we will all be proud to salute,” he said. Powell was followed by a video focusing on Biden’s “unlikely” friendship with the late GOP Sen. John McCain, a bond rooted in their shared interest in world affairs.

VIDEO | 03:13
Cindy McCain speaks of her late husband’s relationship with Joe Biden

Cindy McCain praised Joe Biden’s ability to reach across the aisle to work with Republicans like her husband, the late Sen. John McCain. “It was a style of legislating and leadership that you don’t find much anymore,” she said in a video aired during the second night of the Democratic National Convention.

The speakers’ criticism of Trump regarding international relations was among the convention’s most scathing. An array of former officials from both parties blasted the president as deferential to dictators and an embarrassment on the world stage. “When this president goes overseas, it isn’t a goodwill mission, it’s a blooper reel,” said former Secretary of State John F. Kerry.


Democratic stalwarts weigh in

Biden’s age can be a touchy subject for the campaign, particularly as Trump — just three years younger — seeks to make Biden’s stamina a campaign issue. But in giving ample airtime to party elders, the convention program did not shy away from the fact that Biden, 77, is a peer of this older generation of Democrats.

“When I ran for president in 1976, Joe Biden was my first and most effective supporter in the Senate,” former President Jimmy Carter said. “For decades, he has been my loyal and dedicated friend.”He was followed by former President Bill Clinton, who is three years younger than Biden, yet left the Oval Office nearly 20 years ago. Clinton spent less time recalling long-ago memories of Biden, choosing instead to assail Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis.

VIDEO | 04:58
Bill Clinton slams Trump on virus response and makes his case for Biden

“When asked about the surge in deaths, he shrugged and said, ‘It is what it is,’” Clinton said of Trump. “But did it have to be this way? No. COVID hit us much harder than it had to.”

Trump’s dismissive phrase from a recent interview is quickly becoming a favorite line of attack for Democrats. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York also decried the remark on Tuesday, and Michelle Obama made it a central line in her blockbuster speech on Monday night.

Despite Biden’s decades in office, many voters have only a rough sense of him. The Democratic convention aims to fill in that picture before Trump can.

Aug. 18, 2020

America, meet Jill

Jill Biden is hardly an unknown figure. She was, after all, the second lady of the United States for eight years. And as a frequent presence on the campaign trail (when there was one), she is considered one of the most effective surrogates for her husband.


Still, the closing minutes of the night offered a national audience perhaps the most comprehensive look yet at Jill Biden’s biography, including deeply personal insights about the death of Beau Biden, their oldest son, from brain cancer.

She gave her speech as she strolled through the hallways and classrooms of a Wilmington, Del., high school where she used to teach — a symbolic choice given the country’s dilemma over school reopenings amid the coronavirus pandemic.

VIDEO | 10:04
Jill Biden likens the nation under Trump to a broken family

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s wife, Jill, closed out Tuesday night’s session of the Democratic National Convention.

Michelle Obama, Monday’s star, was a hard act to follow, and Jill Biden may not have similarly lit up social media with her speech. But she, better than any other speaker, could offer a personal testimonial to how grief and healing have shaped her husband and her family.

Particularly touching were her comments on how her husband, a widower with two young boys, began dating her after the death of his first wife and baby daughter, then created a new family with his marriage to her and, eventually, the birth of their daughter.

“I know that if we entrust this nation to Joe, he will do for your family what he did for ours: Bring us together and make us whole,” she said. “Carry us forward in our time of need. Keep the promise of America, for all of us.”