The Democrats make their opening pitch: We can save America

This opening night of the Democratic Party national convention was unlike anything in the history of presidential politics.

Gone was the great theatre of an American convention hall packed with delegates, passion, activism, balloons, and ticker tape.

Instead, in its place was an entirely virtual, online prime-time political gathering - a vast combination of video feeds, political messaging, patriotic symbolism, and an appeal for voters to save America.

The opening night belonged to a young woman who lost her father to Covid-19.  

Kristin Urquiza told the national TV audience that her father's "only pre-existing condition was trusting Donald Trump, and for that, he paid with his life".

Kristin Urquiza spoke to a national audience. Credit: AP

Bernie Sanders - Joe Biden's one-time competitor for the nomination - put his rivalry to one side and appealed for Americans to back the party's presidential ticket.

He said that the stakes are too high for intra-party squabbling.

"To the millions of people who supported my campaign this year... If Donald Trump is re-elected, all the progress we've made will be in jeopardy. At its most basic, this election is about preserving our democracy."

But the star of the night was Michelle Obama, who made a weary but heartfelt attack on her husband's successor in the White House.

Mrs Obama declared: "You simply cannot fake your way through this job... being president doesn't change who you are; it reveals who you are."

At times she appeared close to tears and her speech won rave reviews (and made many Democrats secretly wish Michelle was on the ballot, not Biden).

Michelle Obama starred on the night. Credit: AP

Democrats will be satisfied with this opening night. It wasn't flawless. Many Americans didn't engage with a two hour political extravaganza

In many bars in Milwaukee people were watching sports channels, not the news networks.But the convention revealed the urgency that Democrats believe this moment merits.As Joe Biden often says, America's character is on the ballot.

This was the basic pitch: that Democrats can rescue a failing democracy, and a flailing economy; that they will bring science not hoaxes and conspiracy theories to the White House.

But the party will only know in 76 days whether this convention really succeeded in its one and only objective - putting Joe Biden on a glide-path to the White House.