WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden will accept the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination on Thursday night in a speech that his allies have said will focus on his vision of leading with compassion and moving the country past the current pandemic.
The all-virtual Democratic National Convention will culminate with Biden, 77, making a direct appeal to voters after three consecutive nights of Democratic leaders and Republican supporters making the case for his presidency.
For months the former vice president, looking to adhere to social distancing guidelines, has attempted to engage with supporters in virtual chats and televised speeches. But Thursday’s convention is expected to provide him with his largest audience to date, with data showing at least 19 million viewers tuned into the convention on TV on Monday night, a figure that is down nearly 25% from 2016, but doesn’t account for viewership on YouTube and other popular livestreaming services.
Biden will accept the party’s nomination after beating out a crowded primary field of more than two dozen presidential hopefuls that have largely coalesced behind his candidacy with the goal of defeating Republican President Donald Trump.
In the runup to this week’s convention, Biden has consistently polled ahead of Trump, gaining ground among suburban women in particular.
Larry Levy, executive dean of Hofstra’s Center for Suburban Studies, said that while “convention speeches are the point in the campaign when candidates also begin to pivot toward the middle — particularly to the suburban moderates who decide national elections … the pivot to the middle is somewhat less perilous for [Biden] … because all factions of the party, except the fringe, have embraced his candidacy.”
“Biden is already embraced by these people,” Levy said of Biden’s support among suburbanites. “It’s who he is, as a commuter for 30 years from suburban Delaware,” Levy said. “They are the reason he is up as far as he is in the polls, especially the support of suburban women. His image as a moderate himself plays well and he only needs to be a somewhat restrained version of himself to cement these new ties.”
Trump, 74, has repeatedly taken aim at Biden’s age and fitness for the job, so Biden will likely look “to put to rest the frequent calls Trump makes about him not being up for the job,” said John Geer, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University.
“Part of the reason why Trump won last time was people were willing to take a gamble on him because they disliked Hillary Clinton so much,” said Geer. “Well, there's no more gamble tied to Trump. People know what they're going to get, and they may like it, they may not like it, but there's no gamble component to it. Biden wants to show those handful of undecideds that he’s an acceptable choice, that he's not Hillary Clinton, and that he is ready to lead in ways that will try to bring the country together.”
Biden’s allies say they expect the former vice president will use the speech to cast himself not only as a consoler-in-chief during a time of crisis in our country, but as a seasoned legislator who can navigate the country through the COVID-19 pandemic and its subsequent economic fallout.
“I think the message has got to be a lot more than ‘I'm not Donald Trump,’ and I think [Biden] knows that,” said Jay Jacobs who also serves as chairman of both the New York state Democratic Party and the Nassau Democratic Committee. “I think that's an easy lift for him because he's lived these issues and these ideals for a very long time. I think he's going to demonstrate to the American people, the difference not just in substance but in style and class and dignity, and I think that he's going to be setting out the marker for what this campaign will be all about.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, in a brief phone interview said he expected Biden would strike a hopeful tone.
“There’s a cloud over America today, and we can restore the greatness of America under Biden’s leadership. I hope his speech gives people a lot of hope for the future,” said Schumer (D-N.Y.)
Moe Vela, a former senior adviser to Biden under the Obama administration, said “unification” will likely be a central theme of Biden’s speech as the former vice president draws a contrast between his record of reaching across the aisle to work with his rivals and that of Trump, who frequently blasts his critics in tweets.
“The man can unify people,” Vela said of Biden. “You actually feel loved by him, even if you're a Republican, a Libertarian, a Democrat, it doesn't matter the color of your skin, your ethnicity, your heritage, your religion … the man treats you with dignity and with respect, and I would expect that he would focus on those traits and characteristics of who he is, to contrast the lack of those things in his opponent.”