It will be a convention unlike any other: The coronavirus pandemic forced Democrats to scrap their planned in-person Milwaukee convention.
Instead, speakers will deliver speeches from locations across the country and without the large in-person crowds that are traditionally seen at these events. All eyes will be on how smoothly the transition to a virtual convention works.
The four-night event begins as former Vice President Joe Biden’s lead is showing signs of narrowing. In a CNN poll released Sunday night, 50% of registered voters backed Biden to Trump’s 46%, which is right at the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Top speakers of the night include former first lady Michelle Obama, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and a Republican — former Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
Obama and Sanders are two of the most popular figures in Democratic politics. Kasich, a former presidential candidate, is emblematic of the kind of anti-Trump Republican who Biden is hoping to win over in November.
Here’s what to watch starting at 9 p.m. ET Monday, on the first of four nights of the DNC, which will culminate with Biden accepting the party’s presidential nomination and delivering his keynote speech Thursday night.
The convention’s main hubs will be stages in New York, Los Angeles, Milwaukee and in Biden’s home of Wilmington, Delaware — where he and his running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, will deliver their speeches later in the week.
Emcees primarily broadcasting from Los Angeles will lead each night’s two-hour programs, while speakers deliver their remarks from historic locations around the country. Meanwhile, a production truck in Wilmington will monitor hundreds of live feeds from across the country — part of an effort to build excitement and add moments of reaction to the broadcasts.
If Democrats can keep audiences tuned in and engaged, it could change the way political conventions are held moving forward.
What will Michelle Obama say?
The most out-of-place figure on the first night of the DNC will be John Kasich, the Republican former governor of Ohio.
Kasich was a candidate for the GOP nomination in 2016, and has turned into a prominent voice of the party’s “Never Trump” movement. And while his selection for a speaking slot at the convention angered progressives, handing the spotlight to such a well-known Republican could help Biden’s campaign strike chords of unity.
Kasich won’t be alone among the Democrats.
Former New Jersey Republican Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, former Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman, who ran for governor as a Republican in California in 2010 but backed Hillary Clinton in 2016, and former New York Republican Rep. Susan Molinari will speak in the run-up to Kasich’s address.
There is a history of political parties inviting a former political rival into their convention lineup. In 2008, then-Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman — just eight years after being the Democratic vice presidential nominee — spoke at the Republican National Convention in favor of then-Arizona Sen. John McCain. In 2012, Charlie Crist, who had previously served as the Republican governor of Florida (and is now a Democratic congressman), backed former President Barack Obama’s re-election at that year’s DNC.
Kasich’s message is likely to be oriented toward the need for a functioning government. As a 2016 presidential contender, he often touted his role as a one-time House budget chairman who negotiated spending plans with a surplus with former President Bill Clinton.
This story has been updated with additional speakers announced Monday.