Virtual convention format gains fan base on K Street
The virtual format of the 2020 Democratic National Convention drew praise from K Street lobbyists, with many wondering if the successful aspects of this year's gathering will make traditional conventions a thing of the past.
Democratic lobbyists said they were surprised by how much they liked the online approach, calling it innovative and even intimate. The convention, originally planned as an in-person event in Milwaukee, was first delayed and then moved entirely online due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Time will tell if virtual conventions will have anywhere near the same impact that past celebrations had, but the [Democratic National Committee] DNC sure put its best foot forward despite the obstacles in front of it,” Alfred Mottur, a Democratic lobbyist at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, told The Hill.
Ivan Zapien, a partner at Hogan Lovells, was much more bullish on the prospect of online conventions going forward.
“I am telling you, this is the end of conventions as we know it,” he said. “I suspect the next convention will be a hybrid of old and new, incorporating multiple locations and new technologies to make it more about the voter and less about the party.”
Conventions typically consist of several 18-hour days packed with in-person speeches and events around the host city’s town, which is usually teeming with presidential campaign staff, party lawmakers and legislators, lobbyists and their clients. In many ways, it’s the ultimate political networking event.
“Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect from a convention without the daily credential hustle, the endless receptions, events, magnetometers and swollen feet. The campaign and the DNC did a great job and my liver is grateful,” said John Michael Gonzalez, a partner at Peck Madigan Jones.
Washington insiders didn’t know what to expect coming into a week where lobbyists couldn’t provide first-class treatment for their clients that would typically be part of the four-day event.
“For such an unusual endeavor in such a strange time, I thought they did a pretty remarkable job,” Mottur said.
The pressure is now on Republicans to match or outdo the Democratic convention next week. The GOP event was initially scheduled to take place in Charlotte, N.C., before being moved to Jacksonville, Fla. President Trump later canceled the Jacksonville convention plans and now plans to give his nomination acceptance speech at the White House on Thursday.
The Trump campaign repeatedly criticized the Democrats’ online format this week, with national press secretary Hogan Gidley calling it “clunky” and “awkward.”
“They did the whole nominating process and let everyone cast their votes across the country. So, it was clunky at best. Look, you’ve got a hand tied behind your back because it isn’t in-person but the American people are actually getting to see exactly what goes on at a convention. All the awkward things that happen that the TV never cuts to,” Gidley said.
But the Democratic convention avoided any major technical difficulties or high-profile flubs. It also ended on a high note, with Biden’s acceptance speech getting high marks from media commentators on both ends of the political spectrum.
“The convention exceeded expectations in every way that counts. I cannot remember a time when Democrats were more unified or more determined,” said Arshi Siddiqui, a partner at Akin Gump.
The virtual format took a more personal approach at times by featuring everyday Americans alongside the usual politicians and celebrities.
One of the most popular everyday Americans who participated in the convention was Brayden Harrington, a 13-year-old boy who shared how Biden helped him overcome his stutter. Kellyanne Conway, senior adviser to Trump, tweeted “Way to go, Brayden!” following his speech on Thursday.
“Politics are about people, and putting real voters front and center is a much more efficient and effective way to bring a unified message directly to the public,” Zapien said “COVID has forced the convention to adapt and so far it feels more accessible for voters than ever before.”
“I actually thought the convention was way more accessible to many more people than it has been in the past,” said Israel Klein, founder of the Klein/Johnson Group.
Former Rep. Christopher Carney (D-Pa.), a senior policy adviser at Nossaman LLP, said he was surprised by how impressed he was with the week.
“I did not expect to be grabbed, and held, by a four-day long virtual event,” he said Thursday. “Without the trappings of a raucous convention, the proceedings seemed more intimate and relatable — maybe even comforting.”