Democrats: We Don’t Need Balloons and Confetti to Have Enthusiasm and Strategy

Seen in a screen image from an online watch party, members of the Dunn County Democratic Party discuss the upcoming presidential election Monday night prior to the opening of the virtual Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee.



By Julian Emerson

August 18, 2020

Wisconsin party members miss having an in-person party, but say the energy is coming through online.

Much like so many happenings in 2020, Monday’s opening night of the four-day Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee was a far different version of what was originally planned. Old-fashioned politics and internet-age technology came together unlike any previous iterations of the event in which the party officially nominates its presidential candidate. 

Gone were the more than 50,000 enthusiastic party members and others who had planned to gather in the city’s downtown to nominate Joe Biden as Democrats’ presidential nominee. Gone too were the celebratory balloon drops and confetti.

Instead, because of concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic, Democrats in Wisconsin watched the kickoff of the convention on their TVs, computers and phones, just like viewers across the country. 

Democrats acknowledged that this year’s convention, without the ability to stage an in-person event, will be decidedly different than its predecessors. However, the lack of being able to attend the convention in-person doesn’t take away from its excitement or impact, Democrats said.

Dunn County Democrats had a watch party of their own Monday evening prior to the national convention kickoff. During the online meeting they discussed their accomplishments so far this year and work they have still to do before the Nov. 3 presidential election.

UpNorthNews reporter Jonathon Sadowski reports from a quiet downtown Milwaukee while telling Managing Editor Pat Kreitlow about the few people who still came to the site of the downsized Democratic National Convention.

While a virtual convention will provide a different experience from the past, the event’s main aim — to communicate the Democratic Party’s vision and to build momentum leading to the election — can still be accomplished, Dunn County Democratic Party leader Bill Hogseth said. 

“We won’t have the big crowds, no balloon drops,” Hogseth said. “But in terms of clarifying that vision, I think that’s still going to happen this week.”

Andrew Werthmann wondered whether a virtual convention would be able to convey the same sense of political excitement and purpose as an in-person one. The DNC member from Eau Claire attended the 2016 Democratic convention in Philadelphia and revelled in the opportunity to meet many of the prominent people of the party. He recalled being introduced to Kamala Harris, who last week was named last week as Biden’s vice presidential running mate, at a hotel there. 

“There is an excitement there, when you get to be a part of the big crowd and get to meet so many people,” Werthmann said, noting that canceling the in-person convention was necessary to protect people’s health amid continued coronavirus concerns. “With the pandemic, we’re not going to be able to do that this year.”

As he watched a convention kickoff breakfast Monday morning at which Democratic politicians spoke, Werthmann said he realized the event can still convey enthusiasm despite being conducted online. He felt the same sense of excitement as when he attended the last convention in Philadelphia, the same hope as when he viewed past conventions on TV.

Hours later, he viewed speakers that included former presidential candidate and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, former first lady Michelle Obama, and others on his computer screen at his Eau Claire home.  

“This year is definitely different, but there is still that same excitement there, that energy.” he said. “We will get that message out there about how Biden and Kamala are going to lead.”

Hogseth said he senses more enthusiasm among Dunn County Democrats than existed four years ago, when Republican Donald Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton for the presidency. Trump carried Wisconsin, a key state in that election, by fewer than 23,000 votes.

In 2016 Dunn County voters supported Trump after backing Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. The county was one of 23 in Wisconsin — a key battleground state this year — and 206 nationally to have done the same, and the Dunn County vote is viewed by political experts as an indicator of which candidate will win the Badger State in November. 

“We’re a battleground within a battleground,” Hogseth said of Dunn County. “The voters in rural counties like us are going to be a linchpin of this election.” 

The coronavirus pandemic means party volunteers are hosting Zoom meetings and making phone calls instead of knocking on doors and meeting with potential voters in person, and gauging voter opinion is more challenging than during a traditional election process, Hogseth said. Many people doing that work were on the sidelines in 2016, he said, a sign more Democrats appear to be engaged.

“Volunteers are spending lots of time having conversations with voters any way they can,” he said. “The enthusiasm of the base is way higher than in 2016. If I use that as a metric, the level of grassroots action I see happening, it bodes really well.”




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