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Will 2020 Mark The End Of Political Conventions?

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

President Trump has given up on holding a typical political convention in Jacksonville next month as Florida remains a coronavirus hotspot. Democrats have long planned a mostly virtual gathering to nominate Joe Biden because of the pandemic. As campaign diehards lament missing out on the party conventions, others hope 2020 might bring an end to this long tradition. Here's NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Let's go back to the summer of 2016. This very week, Democrats were gathering in Philadelphia ahead of their convention.

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HILLARY CLINTON: The first time that a major party has nominated a woman for president.

GONYEA: Also four years ago this month, the Republicans took their turn.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.

GONYEA: So what's it going to sound like this summer? Well, maybe not dead silence, but the pandemic has put a blanket over everything.

PATTI SOLIS DOYLE: It's going to be very, very different this year.

GONYEA: That's longtime Democratic strategist Patti Solis Doyle, a veteran of presidential campaigns and conventions.

DOYLE: I will be interested to see not only how it comes off, but whether or not we see it have an impact on voter turnout in November.

GONYEA: Democratic and Republican strategists argue that conventions energize activists and volunteers. They also send a signal to voters that it's time to start paying attention. Critics counter that the convention is one big infomercial with little or no drama. Michael Steel is a GOP veteran of Capitol Hill and presidential campaigns. He disagrees. He says it's a messaging test for a campaign - an important one.

MICHAEL STEEL: There's a real public service benefit in bringing the candidates' views of themselves and the party and the future to the general public in a way that they may not otherwise be exposed to.

GONYEA: Even though major networks tend to carry only the big marquee speech of each night live, Steel says he does not think the big nominating conventions will suddenly become a thing of the past.

STEEL: This is not the end. I think there will be political conventions as long as there are political parties. They'll just be smaller and more focused in the next couple of cycles.

GONYEA: The conventions are decades past serving their original purpose - for the party to come together and choose a nominee. These days, voters do that through primaries and caucuses. And running mates are also named in advance. Karen Tumulty, a columnist at The Washington Post, hopes this is the end. Earlier this year she wrote a piece arguing - pleading, in fact - to get rid of presidential conventions forever. She notes that there hasn't been a brokered convention since the Democrats nominated Adlai Stevenson in 1952. She points to the millions and millions of dollars spent on conventions by political parties, by the media sending anchors and teams of reporters to cover them, and by lobbyists looking to curry favor.

KAREN TUMULTY: They just require an incredible amount of resources and, you know, are underwritten in ways that I think if you look too closely would make a lot of people uncomfortable.

GONYEA: It's hard to predict the future based on the events of this summer. The entire campaign has been turned upside down, like all of American life. But Tumulty and other critics hope that the parties use this as an opportunity to see if there isn't a better way when things do get back to normal.

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AMY KLOBUCHAR: The great state of Minnesota has 42 votes for the next president of the United States...

GONYEA: Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.