Joe Biden pressed his case Thursday night for a major course correction in America as he accepted the Democratic presidential nomination, forcefully indicting the Trump administration while laying out a vision to reunify the nation and restore competence and decency to the White House.
"If you entrust me with the presidency I will draw on the best of us, not the worst," Biden said. "I'll be an ally of the light, not the darkness."
Shifting between the conversational style of a friendly neighbor and the thunder of righteous anger, Biden issued a dire warning of what the nation could become under four more years of President Trump.
"Our current president has failed in his most basic duty to the nation," Biden said. "He's failed to protect us."
Closing out the four-day Democratic National Convention, Biden spoke for less than 25 minutes, relatively short by traditional convention standards, but it was his most consequential speech in half a century in politics.
While he never mentioned Trump by name, he hammered away at the president's performance and the chaos of his administration as it struggles with a deadly pandemic and an economic calamity.
"American history tells us that it’s been in our darkest moments that we’ve made our greatest progress," Biden said, invoking the legacies of former President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the late civil rights icon John Lewis. "I believe we’re poised to make great progress again. That we can find the light once more.”
He offered a series of ambitious policy vows: to implement a plan to confront the virus on Day One, to confront climate change, to confront racial injustice.
Biden promised to enable middle-class workers to care for elderly family members at home, and equal pay for equal work.
The convention ended with the traditional tableau of Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, together onstage, but with a pandemic-related twist.
Without a cavernous arena and sea of delegates to blanket in a cascade of tumbling balloons, Biden, Harris and their spouses turned and waved at a wall-sized display of Zoom boxes, whose occupants smiled and waved back.
Outside in a parking lot, a crowd of supporters hefted signs, shook thunder sticks and honked their car horns as the two couples emerged — wearing face masks — on a flag-bedecked stage and watched as fireworks streaked through the night sky.
Biden clapped merrily, and some in the al fresco audience flickered their car lights in celebration.
In laying out his vision, Biden returned to the theme of the country's deep and abiding racial divisions.
His voice tightened and eyes blazed as he spoke of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., three summer ago and how Trump's refusal to condemn the racist violence had compelled Biden to run.
Trump "said there were ‘very fine people on both sides,'” Biden said, his tone dripping with disdain. “I can never remain silent or complicit."
“Will we be the generation that finally wipes out the stain of racism from our national character?" he said. "I believe we’re up to it."
More festively, the night had the feel at times of a family reunion, albeit a carefully formatted one.
There were video tributes to Biden’s late son, Beau, a former Delaware attorney general who died of a brain tumor in 2015 at age 46. He and Harris were friends, which factored into Biden's selection of his running mate.
Another segment, highlighting the nominee’s relationship with his grandchildren — he likes vanilla ice cream, they revealed, with chocolate sprinkles — played before Biden was introduced by his daughter, Ashley, and youngest son, Hunter. (Hunter Biden has been attacked by Republicans for trading on his family name in doing business overseas.)
“He will be tough and honest,” they said, alternating lines. "He’ll treat everyone with respect no matter who you are. ... He’s been a great father. And we think he’ll be a great president.”
Many saw the intimate moments like those and other parts of the online convention as a more persuasive presentation than the traditional arena-sized gathering originally planned here in Milwaukee but then deemed unsafe in the COVID-19 pandemic.
To the great relief of Democrats, the four nights saw no major technical glitches.
Still, there were more than a few jarring moments when Thursday night's hostess, actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, interspersed serious-minded policy discussion and other sober segments with jokes that fell flat.
One recurring head-scratcher was a gag about how to pronounce Vice President Mike Pence's name, an apparent slap at Republicans consistently mispronouncing Kamala Harris' first name. (It's COMMA-la.)
A day after making history by installing Harris as Biden’s vice presidential running mate — the first woman of color on a major-party ticket — Democrats continued to place their diversity at center stage.
Speakers emphasized racial injustice and voting rights, warning that suppression efforts by the White House and other malfeasance could tip the election to Trump.
Introducing a video honoring the late congressman Lewis — during a lengthy tribute to the civil rights movement — the mayor of Atlanta, Keisha Lance Bottoms, told Americans how they could best honor his memory.
“Let’s stand up for our children, our children’s children and for the great democracy that our ancestors worked to build,” Bottoms said, “and let’s vote.”
Almost as striking as the novel format was something else unusual for a Democratic convention: the utter lack of dissent.
One reason was delegates were scattered across the country. With no gathering on the convention floor, there was no way to wage a floor fight over the platform or other areas of disagreement.
Instead, more than half a dozen of Biden’s former rivals, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, appeared "Hollywood Squares"-style in a jokey segment extolling their erstwhile opponent.
It was a stark contrast with the enmity of the convention four years ago when some Sanders supporters repeatedly booed Hillary Clinton, the party’s 2016 nominee.
But the good tidings also reflect the urgency Democrats feel to oust Trump and the willingness to unify around that singular goal.
Beyond the presence of Harris on the ticket, California, with its mighty electoral college heft, was well represented throughout the virtual convention.
On the final night, Gov. Gavin Newsom was featured in a video recorded on a phone while in transit to a wildfire evacuation center in Watsonville.
He said climate change deniers like Trump should visit to see firsthand the wreckage it has wrought, and took aim at Trump for suggesting California should be denied federal wildfire relief because the state hasn't raked enough leaves.
“You can’t make that up,” Newsom said. “Nor can you make up that we are involved in more than 90 lawsuits” against the Trump administration.
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who has played prominently in the party's push to expand mail voting in the face of Trump's efforts to undermine it, also spoke.
"Trump has admitted he is trying to sabotage the post office by undermining voting by mail," Padilla said. "And we are not going to let him do that."
After a parade of speakers spent parts of all four nights pounding away at Trump — with former President Obama and his wife, Michelle, landing some of the harshest blows — Biden had a clear path to offer an affirmative case for his White House bid.
Polls have consistently shown Biden leading the race, but apparently not from a flood of enthusiasm for his candidacy. In a recent Pew poll, more than half the registered voters who supported Biden or leaned his way said their motivation was simply the fact he was not Trump.
Much of the week’s programming — glowing testimonials, family photos, archival footage — was intended to fill in those gaps, painting Biden as a caring and competent alternative to a truculent incumbent.
Trump continued trolling Biden from afar. He traveled to Pennsylvania to appear outside Scranton, where Biden grew up, accusing his rival of betraying its people by moving away from the hardscrabble city.
Biden was only 10 at the time.
The Biden campaign welcomed the outbursts, suggesting they reinforced the Democrats’ case that Trump is too erratic and insufficiently attentive to the pandemic's rising death toll — now more than 174,000 Americans — and brutal job losses to deserve another four years in office.
“We actually appreciate President Trump going out there because the American people will get to see a tale of two presidents,” said Symone Sanders, a Biden campaign advisor.
Halper reported from Washington and Barabak from Milwaukee. Times staff writers Janet Hook in Washington and Melissa Gomez in Los Angeles contributed to this report.