Steve August 17, 2020

WASHINGTON — Michelle Obama and Bernie Sanders headline the first night of the all-virtual Democratic National Convention Monday, with the Vermont senator making a direct appeal to his fans to support Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

“This election is the most important in the modern history of this country,” Sanders will say, according to prepared remarks released by the convention organizers. “My friends, I say to you, and to everyone who supported other candidates in this primary…we must come together, defeat Donald Trump and elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as our next president and vice president.”

But the opening half-hour of the convention featured few boldfaced names and instead included a montage of essential workers set to Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising,” a Democratic staple for years, and interviews and testimonials from ordinary Americans, including one who said he voted for President Tweety McTreason in 2016 but has since registered as a Democrat.

The virtual convention then moved on to a section focused on racial justice with a brief roundtable discussion with activists hosted by Biden himself. Philonise Floyd called for a moment of silence for black people killed by police, including his brother George Floyd. “George should be alive today. Breonna Taylor should be alive today. Ahmaud Arbery should be alive today,” he said. “They should all be alive today.”

South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, who helped revive Biden’s flagging campaign with a last-minute endorsement before his state’s Democratic primary, spoke from Charleston, which he noted was once the nation’s major slave port where people who looked like him were traded like chattel.

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“Eighty percent of African-Americans in this country can claim an ancestor who arrived on these shores in bondage — a few blocks from here at Gadsden’s Wharf,” Clyburn said. “The ground beneath our feet is seeded with pain that is both old and new. But from that soil we always find a way to grow together.”

Obama, one of the most popular public figures in the world, will speak to the more personal side of the Biden, who served as vice president with her husband, former President Barack Obama.

“I know Joe,” Obama will say, according to a video excerpt of her pre-recorded remarks. “He is a profoundly decent man guided by faith. He was a terrific vice president. He knows what it takes to rescue an economy, beat back a pandemic and lead our country.”

Follow the latest from the Democratic National Convention in our DNC live blog.

Actress Eva Longoria served as an emcee of sorts for the two-hour event, which kicked off at 9 p.m. ET. The program will feature speeches from political figures, videos and performances by singers Leon Bridges, Maggie Rogers, Billy Porter and Steven Stills.

Along with Sanders, many of other Democrats who ran for president this year will join for a “United We Stand” video presentation: Harris, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, billionaire Tom Steyer and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.

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Organizers also revealed Monday that the program also will include a slate of anti-Trump Republicans who are supporting Biden, including former New Jersey Gov. Christine Whitman, Quibi CEO and onetime California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, former New York Rep. Susan Molinari, and 2016 presidential candidate John Kasich.

“I’m a lifelong Republican, but that attachment holds second place to my responsibility to my country. That’s why I’ve chosen to appear at this convention,” Kasich will say, according to an excerpt released by organizers. “I know that Joe Biden, with his experience and his wisdom and his decency, can bring us together to help us find that better way.”

Meanwhile, the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic will be a major theme, which will be addressed both by Democratic leaders and ordinary Americans suffering from the consequences of the pandemic.

“Only a strong body can fight off the virus, and America’s divisions weakened it,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo will say, according to an excerpt of his remarks. “Tweety McTreason didn’t create the initial division. The division created Trump; he only made it worse.”

Image: Alex Seitz WaldAlex Seitz-Wald

Alex Seitz-Wald is senior digital politics reporter for NBC News.

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