Convention that nominates Trump opponent is delayed by virus

Michael Mathes
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Joe Biden -- seen here at one of his last press events in March 2020 before he hunkered down at his Delaware home to respect anti-virus lockdown measures -- is hard-pressed to get his campaign message out during the crisis

The coronavirus disrupted the US presidential race Thursday when Democrats were forced to postpone their national convention until August 17, delaying the likely nomination of Joe Biden to challenge Donald Trump for the White House.

The party was also faced with another wrinkle when a Wisconsin court refused to delay the state's primary next Tuesday, despite warnings that the vote could put the health of thousands at risk.

Several other states have postponed their primaries on virus fears, leaving the Democratic nomination race in limbo just when it should be coming to a high-profile climax.

The Democratic National Committee said the coronavirus crisis has forced a five-week postponement of the convention, a grand affair that brings several thousand party luminaries together in one arena.

"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," DNC Committee chief executive Joe Solmonese said in a statement.

The decision came after former vice president Biden, the likely nominee, said the convention originally scheduled for July 13-16 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, would probably need to be delayed.

Convention planners will use the coming weeks to assess all options to reduce risks to public health.

"These options include everything from adjusting the convention's format to crowd size and schedule," the Democratic statement said.

The Republican National Convention is scheduled August 24-27 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Biden, 77, signaled that his party would need to be prepared for alternatives if the coronavirus crisis persisted or worsened.

"We don't know what it's going to be unless we have a better sense of whether this curve is going to move down or up," Biden told NBC Wednesday.

The pandemic has already killed more than 5,750 people in the United States, which has a world-leading tally of 238,000 confirmed infections.

Roughly nine in 10 Americans are under stay-at-home orders.

- Race put on pause -

The Democratic nomination race has boiled down to moderate Biden, the clear frontrunner, and self-declared democratic socialist Senator Bernie Sanders.

But with Biden expecting to land a hammer blow against his lone remaining rival, no primary has been held since March 17, and the race is essentially stagnant.

Fifteen states and one territory have postponed their primaries and are broadening vote-by-mail options.

Wisconsin, a crucial battleground in November, is still scheduled to hold its primary Tuesday, defying demands from political officials -- and from Sanders -- that the election be delayed.

"People should not be forced to put their lives on the line to vote," Sanders said Wednesday.

Biden suggested he was open to holding the vote.

"A convention having tens of thousands of people in one arena is very different than having people walk into a polling booth with accurate spacing six to 10 feet (1.8 to three meters) apart" and polling machines routinely disinfected, Biden said.

The Wisconsin court made a concession to emergency conditions by extending the deadline for receiving mail-in ballots to six days after the primary.

Meanwhile traditional on-the-ground campaigning like mass rallies and door-knock operations have been frozen for weeks in the effort to avoid viral spread.

Sanders, who is under pressure to drop out, and Biden are hunkered down under stay-at-home orders, scrambling to shift their campaigns online.

Trump too is prevented from hosting rallies. But he takes advantage of his bully pulpit, speaking at length during daily White House coronavirus briefings.