Joe Biden captured the prize Tuesday that he has chased for more than 30 years, as Democrats nominated him for president with ringing endorsements and a roll call vote that virtually touched down in every state and territory.
The fast-paced balloting, forced online with the rest of the proceedings by the coronavirus, spiced up a normally prolonged floor vote as the former U.S. senator and vice president was digitally anointed to take on President Trump in November and lead his party into the future.
Biden, his wife, Jill, and several of their grandchildren appeared on screen immediately after the vote, while supporters cheered remotely and the song “Celebration” boomed in the background.
“It means the world to me and my family, and I’ll see you Thursday,” said a beaming Biden, who will deliver his acceptance speech on the convention’s fourth and final night. “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” Biden said.
Tuesday’s gathering brought together some of the party’s elders — including former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, among others — but also gave a brief platform to firebrand progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.
In keeping with the night’s scripted theme of unity, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who served in three Republican administrations, joined other GOP defectors and national security heavyweights in endorsing Biden.
The Biden campaign hopes they will help persuade wavering Trump supporters to vote Democratic in an election that increasingly appears a referendum on the president’s management of the coronavirus crisis.
Speakers stressed a theme of leadership, showcasing Biden’s nearly five decades in public service and arguing he is a steady hand who can restore competence to the White House and comity in national politics.
“What a difference it will make to have a president who unites us,” Powell said.
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont enjoyed a last burst of attention on Tuesday night when his name was placed in nomination by Ocasio-Cortez. He garnered hundreds of delegates, but Biden’s victory was never in doubt.
Sanders, who only grudgingly surrendered to Hillary Clinton four years ago, delivered an unqualified endorsement of Biden long before the convention. His left-leaning supporters were so scattered across cyberspace they lacked the presence and critical mass to present meaningful dissent.
Neither party has held a brokered convention, in which delegates pick a nominee only after multiple rounds of voting, in nearly 70 years. The digital roll call was even more suspense-free than usual.
Normally, it is one of the most iconic convention moments, a chance for delegates to not just express their choice for president but good-naturedly brag on their home states before ending in a wild celebration.
Like everything else, this year it was squeezed into a much narrower time frame and reimagined under social distancing that spread the virtual balloting across the country and into the Caribbean and the Pacific.
Representatives of the 50 states and seven U.S. territories were tethered remotely in what Democrats billed — putting the best gloss on — as the “Roll Call Across America.”
Though brisk, the tally of states offered a panoramic tour of the country and its kaleidoscopic landscape, from the cactus-dotted desert of Arizona to the red rocks of Colorado, the sandy shores of Hawaii to the vast open plains of the Midwest.
One tradition held. Delaware passed on its initial turn in the alphabetical order, leaving the vote to circle back and allow Biden’s home state to cast the final votes that officially put him over the top.
Later, Cindy McCain, the widow of former Arizona Sen. John McCain — the GOP’s 2008 presidential nominee — appeared in a video that spoke of his long friendship with Biden despite their abiding political and ideological differences.
Amid home movies of the two families picnicking and affectionate stories of the senators’ partisan combat, a voiceover said, “It was a style of legislating and leadership that you don’t find much anymore.”
Powell, a retired Army general who once weighed his own bid for the White House, said Biden would be a president “we will all be proud to salute.”
“With Joe Biden in the White House, you will never doubt that he will stand with our friends and stand up to our adversaries, never the other way around,” Powell said in a thinly veiled swipe at Trump. “He will trust our diplomats and intelligence community, not the flattery of dictators and despots.”
Other longtime national security experts also touted Biden’s leadership, several of them warning that the international chaos and cozy relations with dictators Trump has invited are putting the nation at risk.
Sally Yates, the former acting attorney general who refused to carry out Trump’s Muslim ban, said the president “treats our country like it’s his family business, this time bankrupting our nation’s moral authority at home and abroad.”
Jill Biden delivered the closing speech in a moving tribute to her husband of 43 years. She mixed the personal and political as she assumed the traditional role of vouching for her political spouse, sharing family moments of joy and sorrow that, she said, have tempered her husband and groomed him for this country’s perilous moment.
Speaking live from a Delaware classroom where she once taught English, she mentioned the horrors of a car crash that claimed her husband’s first wife and infant daughter in 1972, and the brain cancer that claimed the Bidens’ oldest son, Beau, in 2015.
Turning to the country’s economic and medical crises, she said, “The burdens we carry are heavy. And we need someone with strong shoulders.
“I know that if we entrust this nation to Joe, he will do for your family what he did for ours,” she continued. “Bring us together and make us whole. Carry us forward in our time of need. Keep the promise of America for all of us.”
Democrats made the case that those searing losses instilled in Biden an empathy that makes him uniquely suited to guide the nation out of the pandemic that has killed more than 170,000 Americans this year and put parts of the economy on life support.
Carter extolled Biden’s “experience, character and decency,” and Bill Clinton explained how the Oval Office would function if voters chose Biden over Trump.
“Our party is offering you a very different choice: a go-to-work president,” Clinton said from his home in a New York City suburb. “A down-to-earth, get-the-job-done guy. A man with a mission: to take responsibility, not shift the blame.”
In another break with tradition — this one of Biden’s design — no one person was given the honor of delivering the convention’s keynote address. Rather, the assignment was tasked to a multi-ethnic, multi-generational round robin of 17 speakers.
The taped montage kicked off the night, bouncing from one speaker to another for many rounds, and at times featuring several on the screen in unison.
“We are facing the biggest economic and health crisis in a generation because our president didn’t and still doesn’t have a plan,” said Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, one of those featured, speaking from an architectural and design firm in his city’s downtown.
While showcasing the diversity of the party, the move also removed the risk of someone younger and more dynamic making the 77-year-old Biden seem stale and tired by comparison.
For Biden, the nomination is the culmination of a difficult, decades-long quest.
He first ran for president in 1987, quitting the race after he admitted plagiarizing other politicians’ speeches and exaggerating his academic record. He tried a second time in 2008 but exited after just a single contest — the caucuses in Iowa — where he received a scant 1% of the vote.
It was looking like his current run would be another flame-out after voters roundly rejected him in early primaries. But he would come roaring back, winning a string of victories that closed out the Democratic contest with stunning rapidity, finally winning the nomination on Tuesday night he had sought for so long.
Halper reported from Washington and Barabak from Milwaukee.