DNC Chairman Perez forging ahead with plans for in-person convention, as coronavirus concerns mount

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In public interviews and in private conversations, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee says he’s looking forward to holding an in-person convention of some scale this summer — even though a prominent Democratic governor and others in his party have repeatedly voiced skepticism over holding such events in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In many ways, DNC Chairman Tom Perez’s desire to hold the Democratic convention in Milwaukee is no different than everyone else wanting to return to our normal ways of life. For many that simply means going to work or school each day but also gathering with hundreds or thousands of others to share in concerts, sporting events and, for the politically-minded, conventions.

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In this Nov. 20, 2019 file photo, Chair of the Democratic National Committee, Tom Perez, speaks before a Democratic presidential primary debate in Atlanta. Perez is calling for a “recanvass” of the results of Monday's Iowa caucus. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

In this Nov. 20, 2019 file photo, Chair of the Democratic National Committee, Tom Perez, speaks before a Democratic presidential primary debate in Atlanta. Perez is calling for a “recanvass” of the results of Monday’s Iowa caucus. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

The Democratic National Committee estimates its quadrennial convention, if fully attended, would see 50,000 people show up in southeastern Wisconsin, more than the number of people it takes to fill a baseball stadium — which California Governor Gavin Newsom says isn’t going to happen in the months ahead, at least in his state.

“The idea of tens of thousands of fans coming together across their differences, high-fiving one another, hugging each other after a base hit or a strikeout is not something I’m anticipating anytime soon,” Newsom told an interviewer Tuesday.

It’s a message he’s been delivering for several weeks that his state, if not the country, is nowhere near the point of allowing large groups of people to gather in a confined space.

In this Tuesday April 14, 2020, file photo, California Gov. Gavin Newsom discusses an outline for what it will take to lift coronavirus restrictions, during a news conference at the Governor's Office of Emergency Services in Rancho Cordova, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

In this Tuesday April 14, 2020, file photo, California Gov. Gavin Newsom discusses an outline for what it will take to lift coronavirus restrictions, during a news conference at the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services in Rancho Cordova, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

Perez acknowledges the challenges and says he is preparing for contingencies. The party has already delayed the convention by more than a month moving to mid-August dates vacated by the Tokyo Olympics now to be held in 2021. “I think we’re going to be able to have an in-person convention by the time we get to August 17,” Perez said in a podcast this week.  “At the same time, we’re not going to have our public health heads in the sand.”

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DNC Member Virgie Rollins told Fox News that she had a call with Perez Wednesday to talk about the convention dilemma. “We’re going to follow the chairman’s advice about waiting until we see how COVID-19 plays out by June [or] July,” Rollins said. “And then we can be better informed on the format of what the convention is going to look like.”

A common suggestion is for Democrats to hold a “virtual convention” or some variation of a gathering that can allow people to remain at home or otherwise not travel to a central location. It’s an alternative happening right now at local levels across the country. Democrats in Orange County, N.C., will meet on Saturday for their “virtual county convention” to elect representatives who may ultimately end up as national delegates. One member confirmed to Fox News that the move to an online meeting was made out of concerns about spreading coronavirus. 

As sensible as that may seem to some, many Democrats are reluctant to increase their dependence on technology to conduct necessary business. The hacking scandal from four years ago and the reporting delays from this year’s caucuses in Iowa and to a lesser extent Nevada are fresh reminders of what can go wrong.

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Another compounding issue is geographic and demographic variables tied to the virus. It may be awkward for Californians, for instance, to attend the convention if Newsom’s orders to shelter or not host events of smaller scale remain in place. “Nobody is saying this is going to be easy because the virus is hitting different parts of the country at different times,” DNC member Andrew Lachman, who lives in Los Angeles, told Fox News.  

Data shows some of the most susceptible people to the virus are the elderly and African Americans — two key constituencies within the Democratic Party.

“What affects African-Americans affects everybody when it comes to coming to the convention,” Rollins, who heads the DNC’s Black Caucus, told Fox News.

She doesn’t shy away from the numbers but says the push to attend or stay home will cut across any racial discrepancies: “I don’t think African-Americans need to be more reluctant than white people or Hispanic people or Asian-American people. If it’s not safe, then it’s not safe.”

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