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Virus Upends Trump, Biden Conventions  08/06 06:31

   

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- At the last minute, President Donald Trump and his 
Democratic rival, Joe Biden, are searching for places to impressively yet 
safely accept their parties' presidential nominations as the spread of the 
coronavirus adds fresh uncertainty to the campaign for the White House.

   Trump said Wednesday he's considering giving his Aug. 27 acceptance speech 
on the grounds of the White House, a move that could violate ethics law. Biden, 
meanwhile, scrapped plans to accept the Democratic nomination on Aug. 20 in 
Milwaukee, where the party has spent more than a year planning a massive 
convention.

   Presidential conventions are a staple of American politics and have played 
out against national traumas as significant as the Civil War and World War II. 
But the pandemic's potency is proving to be a tougher obstacle, denying both 
candidates crucial opportunities to connect with supporters in the final 
stretch before the Nov. 3 election.

   The campaigns are looking for alternative ways to deal with the virus and 
still reach millions of Americans through television and virtual events. 
Longtime convention attendees say they'll miss the traditional festivities even 
as they acknowledge public health priorities.

   "I was looking forward to going to Milwaukee and having a lot of beer and 
other snacks," said Donna Brazile, who managed Al Gore's campaign in 2000 and 
served as Democratic National Committee chair in 2016. But "if you ask a 
majority of voters, they'd tell you they're more anxious about when the NFL 
season starts. ... What's best for the public should be best for the 
politicians at this point."

   Matt Moore, a former South Carolina GOP chairman, has enjoyed several 
Republican conventions as unifying efforts following bruising primary battles 
in states like his. But the general election audience, he said, doesn't see it 
the same way.

   "As long as they can watch it on Facebook, most voters don't care if the 
conventions are in Siberia or Sheboygan," he said.

   Trump originally planned to accept the GOP nomination in Charlotte, North 
Carolina, the largest city in a critical battleground state. But he sparred 
with Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, who wouldn't guarantee the state would lift 
restrictions on large crowds like the scenes inside a presidential convention 
arena.

   Frustrated, Trump declared he'd abandon North Carolina for Republican-run 
Florida. But then coronavirus cases spiked there and across the Sun Belt, 
forcing him to retreat again.

   In a phone interview with Fox News Channel's "Fox & Friends" on Wednesday, 
Trump said the first night of GOP programming would originate from Charlotte 
but the rest would be shown from various locations, including potentially the 
White House.

   "I'll probably do mine live from the White House," Trump said, but he also 
said it was not locked in.

   He provided few other details on the convention whose programming, like its 
location, has been in flux. Trump said first lady Melania Trump would speak, as 
well as pro-Trump Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Matt Gaetz of Florida.

   Holding such an event at the White House would mark the latest test to both 
norms and laws prohibiting the use of government property and personnel in 
campaign activities.

   Trump himself is exempted from the Hatch Act, which limits the political 
activities of federal employees. It also does not cover "rooms in the White 
House or in the residence of the vice president, which are part of the 
residence area or which are not regularly used solely in the discharge of 
official duties."

   Still, the event in the White House complex would surely raise ethical and 
legal concerns, including for staff members who would be involved.

   "If for some reason somebody had difficulty with it, I could go someplace 
else," Trump said. "The easiest, least expensive, and I think very beautiful 
would be live from the White House."

   Trump continued to defend the idea to reporters during a news briefing late 
Wednesday, again citing costs.

   "If I use the White House, we save tremendous amounts of money for the 
government in terms of security, traveling," he said.

   Biden hasn't been so publicly reluctant to scale back his convention, 
expressing doubts about a full arena even before Democratic National Committee 
officials made the move toward a virtual event.

   But those who know him say a lost convention still has to rank as a personal 
disappointment for a man who calls himself a "tactile politician" and who first 
sought the presidency in 1988. Biden has been on the convention stage twice as 
the vice presidential nominee for Barack Obama.

   In late April, when Democrats first started acknowledging the likelihood of 
a drastically altered convention, Biden's team put together a slickly produced 
45-minute show marking the one-year anniversary of his campaign launch. It 
featured top supporters, video from a year of campaigning, some biographical 
tidbits about the candidate and then Biden addressing supporters alongside his 
wife, Jill Biden.

   Those kinds of effects and approaches could be repeated even without a 
traditional convention stage in an arena or stadium.

   The major parties have always convened every four years, even in 1864 and 
1944 during wrenching wars that affected the entire nation.

   However, the political extravaganzas have been declining in practical 
importance and viewership in recent decades. The modern primary process, 
developed over the 1960s and 1970s, ended the practice of conventions serving 
as the proverbial if not literal smoke-filled rooms where nominees were chosen, 
often taking multiple ballots cast into the wee hours of the morning.

   Still, conventions have remained as opportunities for tens of thousands of 
delegates, elected officials, party bosses, rank-and-file activists and media 
to gather, even if the nomination vote was a formality.

   Nominees have used the affairs to shape their messages and identities for 
the general electorate. George H.W. Bush came to New Orleans in 1988 to 
establish a brand separate from his two terms as Ronald Reagan's vice 
president. Four years later, Gov. Bill Clinton's campaign unveiled his famous 
biographical video as he dubbed himself a "boy from Hope," his Arkansas 
hometown.

   Keynote speakers, chosen by the nominees, have used the convention stage as 
launchpads, too, most notably when Obama, then a state senator running for the 
U.S. Senate, took the stage in Boston in 2004. Four years later, he walked out 
to a full outdoor stadium --- a remarkable scene in the annals of presidential 
conventions --- in Denver.

 
 
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