From Bill Clinton to AOC, Democrats to highlight party's heritage and future

(Reuters) – Democrats will highlight the party’s future leaders and turn to a political powerhouse from the past, former President Bill Clinton, to make the case for U.S. presidential candidate Joe Biden at their national convention on Tuesday.

Biden’s wife, Jill Biden, one of his closest political advisers, will deliver the main speech on Tuesday, the second night of the Democratic National Convention, after an opening night that featured a scathing attack on President Donald Trump from former first lady Michelle Obama.

Joe Biden will be formally nominated on Tuesday and deliver his acceptance speech on Thursday night. His vice presidential pick, Senator Kamala Harris, will headline Wednesday night’s program along with former President Barack Obama.

With the four-day convention largely virtual due to the coronavirus, delegates from around the country will cast votes remotely to confirm Biden, 77, as the Democratic nominee for the Nov. 3 election against the Republican Trump, 74.

Without the cheering crowds at the in-person gathering originally planned for Milwaukee, Wisconsin, TV viewership was down. Roughly 18.7 million people watched the first night, according to early Nielsen Media Research provided by Fox News, down from the 26 million people who watched the first night of the party’s 2016 convention.

One of the videos at Tuesday’s event will feature Cindy McCain, widow of Senator John McCain, talking about that Arizona Republican’s long friendship with Biden, according to a preview posted online. Trump clashed with McCain, who was the Republican nominee for president in 2008, and the president criticized McCain even after his 2018 death.

The convention is being held amid worries about the safety of in-person voting. Democrats have pushed mail-in ballots as an alternative and pressured the head of the U.S. Postal Service, a top Trump donor, to suspend cost cuts that delayed mail deliveries. Bowing to that pressure, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy put off the cost-cutting measures until after the election.

Rather than a single keynote speaker on Tuesday, the convention program will put the spotlight on 17 of the party’s rising stars, including Stacey Abrams, the one-time Georgia gubernatorial nominee whom Biden considered for a running mate.

The night’s theme is “Leadership Matters,” organizers said.

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“At a time like this, the Oval Office should be a command center. Instead, it’s a storm center. There’s only chaos,” Clinton is expected to say, according to excerpts of speeches that organizers sent in advance.

BEHIND IN POLLS, TRUMP TAKES TO CAMPAIGN TRAIL

In an effort to draw attention away from Biden, Trump, trailing in opinion polls, will deliver a speech in Arizona, a hotly contested battleground state that can swing to either party and play a decisive role in the election.

Hours before his planned speech, the president said a massive shift to mail-in voting could cause so many problems officials might have to re-do the vote, a far-fetched possibility given that a national U.S. election “re-do” has never occurred and Trump lacks the authority to order one.

Other Democratic speakers on Tuesday include former President Jimmy Carter, U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leading liberal figure known as AOC; and Sally Yates, the former acting U.S. attorney general who clashed with Trump during her brief tenure overseeing the Justice Department.

“He’s trampled the rule of law, trying to weaponize our Justice Department to attack his enemies and protect his friends,” Yates said of Trump, according to emailed excerpts of her remarks.

Former Secretary of State John Kerry will blast Trump’s handling of foreign policy, telling reporters ahead of his speech that under Trump, “the United States is not the leader of the free world.”

And Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer told CNN that he will bash Trump’s immigration policies from Brooklyn, New York, with the Statue of Liberty appearing over his shoulder.

Democrats used Monday’s opening program to demonstrate the broad coalition committed to defeating Trump in November, with a range of speakers that included U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, the liberal who was Biden’s chief rival for the nomination, and the former Republican Governor of Ohio John Kasich.

Michelle Obama’s impassioned speech drew the most attention. She decried Trump as the “wrong president” for a country reeling from the pandemic, an economic crash and a national reckoning on race relations.

Trump on Tuesday blasted former President Obama’s handling of the 2009 H1N1 swine flu outbreak even as Trump’s own administration grapples with COVID-19. About 12,000 people died from H1N1, U.S. statistics show, compared to more than 170,000 U.S. deaths from the coronavirus pandemic to date, according to a Reuters tally.

The Republican National Convention, also largely virtual, takes place next week. Trump will give his acceptance speech at the White House, despite criticism he is politicizing the presidential residence.

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