Warning from Wisconsin: Democrats cannot take victory for granted

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris election race starts in earnest this week. Credit: AP

The first big pre-election moment is upon us.

The Democratic Party national convention starts on Monday night, the opening shot of a campaign that will be unique in the tumultuous history of American presidential politics.Never before has the US tried to organise an election amid a raging pandemic.  Both parties have been forced to abandon plans for their traditional extravagant, theatrical and triumphalist party gatherings.Milwaukee, the city in Wisconsin that lies on the shores of Lake Michigan, famous for its beer and German-American heritage, was meant to be hosting thousands of Democratic party activists this week.

Instead, the Convention has become a virtual, online event that will be organised around a series of recorded and live video feeds from across America.On Monday, millions of Americans will listen on TV and online to speeches from Bernie Sanders and Michelle Obama.  

Trying to reach beyond a traditional audience, soundbites and images will be aggressively pushed out on social media platforms to create viral moments.

Party bosses want to amplify the message to voters already exhausted by the public health crisis and the partisan political atmosphere.Later in the week we will hear from Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and, of course, Kamala Harris and Joe Biden.Sanders' role is important because there is the question of whether his young, radical supporters will really swing behind Biden (the answer: probably, because they loathe Trump, but with zero enthusiasm for Biden).

Bernie Sanders' supporters could be crucial for Joe Biden. Credit: PA

Michelle has box office appeal among Democratic voters (many of whom will wish she was running, not Biden).

Her memorable line at the Convention four years ago still resonates: "When they go low, we go high."  She has recently confessed that she is suffering from depression because of the Trump presidency.Wisconsin is the ultimate Midwestern battleground state.  In 2016, Trump won here by less than 23,000 votes, a victory of less that one percent.After 48 hours of talking to Wisconsinites, this much is clear to me: the Biden-Harris ticket cannot take voters from granted.

Michelle Obama would be a more popular candidate than Biden for many. Credit: Kirsty O’Connor/PA

We have found no-one enthusiastic about Biden.  Many people told us that they would vote for him, but only as a negative judgment on President Trump.And even Harris is viewed with scepticism. Young black activists told me that they are deeply suspicious of her background as a prosecutor.  They claim she was pro-police while Attorney-General in California, and put too many blacks behind bars for petty offences.So Wisconsin is an early warning sign for Democrats.  They will need to fight for every vote.That effort begins now.