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2020 is looking to be a pivotal year in politics. But this year's elections are about much more than the race for the White House. And the coronavirus pandemic is proving to be a complicating factor. WKSU, our colleagues at public radio stations across Ohio and the region and at NPR will bring you coverage of all the races from the national to the local level.

What to Expect from this Year's Virtual Democratic National Convention

This year's virtual convention will stand in stark contrast to the 2016 DNC in Philadelphia.

The Democratic National Convention gets underway today. However, the usual mix of in-person pomp and circumstance and politics is being replaced by a virtual four-day event due to the pandemic. One of those who was supposed to be there watching everything that's going on was Dave Cohen, interim director of the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University Akron, but, remotely, he’s still keeping tabs on what’s going on. 

A historic first 
This year's convention will be one unlike any other. Conventions have only been around since the 1830's and the invention of the transcontinental railroad. All presidential conventions since then have been held in person. Cohen calls this year's conventions historic, as they will be the first to be held virtually. 

"It's a big experiement like much of the last several months have been in our American society."

A surprising speaker from Ohio
One speaker from Ohio is on the list to speak at the convention so far. However, it's an unusual pick: former Republican Governor John Kasic.

Cohen calls the choice both surprising and not surprising. Although Kasich is a Republican, he has staunchly opposed President Donald Trump since 2016. He didn't vote for Trump or attend the Republican National Convention which took place in Cleveland. 

Cohen says it's not surprising Democrats would want to bring in a Republican who is a critic of Trump. He speculates Kasich is more popular with Ohio Democrats than with Republicans, 

Kasich and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden have a good relationship. However, this does not mean he wants to switch parties. 

"After Trump is gone, he wants to bring the Republican party back to where John Kasich is, as opposed to where Donald Trump is on the ideaological spectrum," Cohen says. 

Lack of other speakers from Ohio
Kasich is the only speaker from Ohio scheduled to speak from Ohio thus far. Cohen says this is surprising, as he excpected Senator Sherrod Brown to also be on the list. Brown is a nationally recognized figure by both moderate and progressive Democrats. Cohen says he is a bridge between the two wings of the party. 

Cohen speculates that time played a large factor in there not being more speakers from Ohio. Although the convention is a four-day event, there are only two hours for speakers each night. 

Uniting the party
There are several big names in the Ohio delegation, such as Ohio Senator Vernon Sykes and Ohio House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes. Cohen says there are several delegates who had pledged to Senator Bernie Sanders as well. Sanders is scheduled to speak the first night. 

"He and others like him are going to have a pretty important task to bring the left of the Democratic party, the hardcore progressives, to come and stand behind the Joe Biden-Kamala Harris ticket," Cohen says.

According to Cohen, one of the main goals of this convention will be to unite the Democratic party. 

Ohio's importance in 2020
No Republican has won the White House without winning Ohio, but the same isn't necessarily true for Democrats. Cohen says the Democrats would love to turn Ohio blue. He predicts that if Ohio votes for Biden, he will win the election easily. However, Ohio is much more important for Trump.

"Democrats are competing in Ohio, but Republicans are desperate to keep Ohio in the Republican column."

Cohen says if Democrats win Ohio, they also will most likely win other midwestern battleground states that they lost in 2016, such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. In that scenario, Cohen says they likely will also win other close states such as Florida, Arizona and Georgia. 

Is Ohio still a swing state?

Democrats are competing in Ohio, but Republicans are desperate to keep Ohio in the Republican column.

Recent polls show Biden ahead of Trump in Ohio. However, consistently, polls are showing that the race in Ohio is in the margin of error and truly a swing state. Cohen says this is why both Democrats and Republicans are investing in Ohio so heavily. 

"If Ohio were not a swing state, neither campaign would be coming here. Neither campaign would be investing in staff and resourcs here. Neither campaign would be buying advertising time in the fall. And that's all happening. 

One big experiment 
Modern conventions focus more on pomp and circumstance rather than actual convention activities. Cohen believes the COVID-19 pandemic will force both parties to rethink the national conventions and what role they play in the nominating process. 

"The fact is since the 1830's, people have been getting together for the political conventions to nominate their people. Technology now allows us to not have to do that. Everything can be done remotely."

Cohen thinks the 2024 conventions will be different, maybe a more hybrid model where not everyone is in the city or convention hall at the same time. 

"It's just one big expirement that's unfolding in front of our eyes."

Andrew Meyer is the deputy editor of news at Ideastream Public Media.
Abigail Bottar covers Akron, Canton, Kent and the surrounding areas for Ideastream Public Media.