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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 Republican National Convention

A photo of the RNC stage.
This year's Republican National Convention will be a lot different than in 2016.

Editor's note:  This story has been updated.
The Republican National Convention starts tonight. And for the first time ever, due to the pandemic, it’s virtual. 
John Green, director emeritus of the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron, discusses how Republicans will use this convention to gain momentum heading into November’s elections. 

Importance of the convention 

"The party that's in power has a little different political challenge than a party that's out of power," says Green. 


The party that's in power has to make the case that they've been doing a good job and should continue to remain in power. However, this will be no easy job this year. Green points to the pandemic, the subsequent economic fallout and racial tensions as all challenges the GOP will face in trying to get the president reelected. He calls it a "daunting task." 


To Green, the key moment of this convention will be when President Donald Trump speaks. However, the week will be filled with other Republican speakers setting the stage for the President. 


Speakers from Ohio? 

Ohio will be represented in prime time at the RNC. One of President Trump’s most vocal supporters in the U.S. House, Rep. Jim Jordan is scheduled to speak Monday night. Cleveland native Ja’Ron Smith, the Director of Urban Affairs and Revitalization and Deputy Assistant to the President will speak on Thursday night.


Jordan was one of Trump's most ardent supporters during his impeachment. 


"He articulates very affectively many of the things that the President stands for," Green says. 


There are a lot of other prominent Republicans from Ohio, including Governor Mike DeWine and Senator Rob Portman who aren’t listed as convention speakers. Green points out that these two figures are not particularly close to Trump. 


Difficulties of a virtual convention 

Prior to the pandemic, the convention was set to take place in Charlotte, North Carolina. Without the pandemic, the delegation from Ohio would be meeting there. 


Green says the convention being virtual will cost the networking and preparation for the fall campaign that typically takes place. However, he thinks this can still happen at some level online. 


"I think some of the regular efforts that need to occur to organize a presidential campaign are going to be a challenge for both the Republicans and the Democrats."


There will still be meetings in Charlotte with state and local officials and party leaders. 



Convention momentum 

No Republican has taken the White House without also winning Ohio. However, polls in Ohio show that Democratic nominee Joe Biden is slightly ahead of Trump.


Green says conventions are always important for all nominees, because it builds momentum for the last few weeks of campaigning. However, he says this convention is particularly important for Trump due to the current state of the country. 


"The lead that the Democrats have right now is not insurrmountable, but it's up to the President and his campaign to change that if they want to be reelected."


Green says if the convention is a success, it will set up a powerful campaign for reelection. 


Must-see TV 

Green says the convention is "must-see TV," as it will be the first virtual Republican National Convention. 


"Because of the pandemic, we simply can't have the kind of convention that we've traditionally had. It's going to have to be done virtually and digitally, and it's just going to be fascinating to see how both of the parties are able to cope with those challenges."


The Republican National Convention starts tonight at 9:00 pm. Hear it live on WKSU and stream it at wksu.org. 


Mark Arehart joined the award-winning WKSU news team as its arts/culture reporter in 2017. Before coming to Northeast Ohio, Arehart hosted Morning Edition and covered the arts scene for Delaware Public Media. He previously worked for KNKX in Seattle, Kansas Public Radio, and KYUK in Bethel, Alaska.
Abigail Bottar covers Akron, Canton, Kent and the surrounding areas for Ideastream Public Media.