It was the surprise highlight of an evening showcasing the party’s past and present, including two aged former presidents, the young star Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, more Republicans speaking in support of the nominee, and his wife, Jill Biden. And it might just have given the nation’s flattened tourism industry the kind of publicity money can’t buy.
State-by-state roll calls — an academic exercise now that political consultants have consigned contested conventions to history — drag when parades of grandstanding delegates grab their moments of fame in crowded, hot convention halls.
Not this time.
An advertisement for America
The virtual tour played out in short recorded videos, and live shots became a tantalizing glimpse of a vast and fertile land that is out there waiting once the current nightmare — in which more than 170,000 people have died, millions lost their jobs and tens of millions have been cut off from friends, coworkers and loved ones — finally abates.
The ultimate outdoor Room Rater moment served up stunning backdrops from rocky crags in Colorado to the Bering Sea in Alaska and Arizona cacti. It swept from American Samoa, with a verdant mountain vista, to a farmyard in Maine and on to Michigan’s delegation in the Motor City, standing like salesmen in a local TV ad in front of three gleaming new vehicles.
Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania delivered the Keystone State’s votes outside Biden’s boyhood home, and in front of a sign reading “Scranton Loves Joe!”
The vote poignantly started on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, where the recently deceased John Lewis had marched into history. And where else would “Amtrak” Joe Biden’s presidential nominating roll call wrap up but a platform of the Joseph R. Biden Jr. Railroad Station in Wilmington, Delaware?
Some states, with an eye toward the dormant tourist trade that will one day return, showcased local flavor, dress and the quirky traditions that weave the tapestry of diverse cultures that is modern America.
If nothing else sticks from the second night of the Democratic virtual convention, everyone will remember Rhode Island’s calamari chef, who immediately went viral on social media. The delegation from the Northern Mariana Islands welcomed the country to “paradise” as it cast two votes for Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and nine for Biden.
In one reminder of the packed arenas that are unthinkable in the age of Covid-19, many states and territories did still display their distinctive posts, which normally identify each state delegation on the crowded floor.
Somber notes amid the celebrations
This whip around America was not necessarily totally partisan, despite featuring Democratic candidates, lawmakers and activists for various causes.
Had they turned the sound down, any stray Republicans might at least have enjoyed the scenery. And the GOP will get the chance to go one better in its big show next week when it nominates President Donald Trump for a second term.
Still, there were haunting reminders of the country’s current plight and the political tensions that have ripped the nation’s fabric in a dark year.
Many delegations stood socially distanced, 6 feet apart. Most delegates wore masks, in a spectacle that may not be repeated when Republicans meet under similar circumstances, given widespread conservative skepticism of the practice.
And when the camera moved to Washington, DC, Mayor Muriel Bowser was framed above Black Lives Matter Plaza on the road leading to the White House.
Convention organizers had been concerned that the roll call vote was a technical disaster in the making. But in the end, it went off seamlessly and ended up creating an unforgettable national moment.
“No one has ever watched or cared about the roll call vote except the people in the convention hall. Tonight, it told a story of unity and it just worked in this moment,” a senior Democratic official told CNN’s Jeff Zeleny.
“Tonight, the old school aspects of the convention came to life in ways unexpected — roll call and videos — after six months of Americans becoming accustomed to virtual meetings. The intimacy worked better than expected.”
In fact, the nationwide roll call worked so well, and with the Republican version to come next week, it’s hard to imagine the parties ever going back to the old way when the faithful meet — in person — in 2024.