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Biden Sees His Big Moment On Final Night Of The Democratic National Convention

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Let's talk more about last night's speech from Joe Biden, as well as the convention, with NPR political correspondent Asma Khalid and senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro. Good morning to you both. Thanks for being here.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: Asma, we heard, I guess we could say, a lot of different messages from Democrats this week targeting different segments of a pretty big tent. I mean, can you talk specifically about last night? What did you hear in terms of the nominee's message?

KHALID: Yeah. You know, David, you mentioned a big tent. And really, to me, Biden's central message was addressing that big tent. It was a message of unity and competence. And he was trying to portray himself as this healer-in-chief, someone who could bridge the country's political divisions.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE BIDEN: I'll work hard for those who didn't support me - as hard for them as I did for those who did vote for me. That's the job of a president - to represent all of us, not just our base or our party. This is not a partisan moment. This must be an American moment.

KHALID: He did not mention Donald Trump by name, but it was an implicit criticism of the president. And as Joe Biden continued speaking through the evening, the criticism, to me, became even more direct.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE BIDEN: Our current president's failed in his most basic duty to the nation. He's failed to protect us. He's failed to protect America. And, my fellow Americans, that is unforgivable.

KHALID: He was speaking about the pandemic there and the president's response to COVID-19. You know, really, the coronavirus has become a major theme for the Biden campaign. And I would say it sort of drowned out a lot of the other concerns that we've been hearing about the president earlier on in the primary cycle. You must have probably noticed during the convention how little we heard about impeachment all week. The main concern for Democrats now has become the pandemic.

GREENE: Yeah, really. You heard that during this convention. Domenico, I mean, we think about Biden's journey. I mean, in those early primary states...

MONTANARO: Right.

GREENE: ...It looked like he might be down and out. He made this comeback - all brings us to this moment last night. I mean, what did you hear from him?

MONTANARO: Well, it's certainly remarkable that he's gotten to this point, but this was probably the best - certainly, the most important speech of his career. I mean he stepped up to a moment when, frankly, a lot of Democrats were unsure if he could deliver. And Republicans certainly didn't think he would meet it. He connected through the television as a human being, as a leader and as a father. And that was a big theme of the week - that he's this decent guy who's suffered loss, that he can empathize. And, you know, one moment really struck me in which he talked about the loss of his son Beau, who died of cancer in 2015, his service in the Iraq War. And then he kind of swallowed hard and delivered this line on how he'd conduct himself as commander-in-chief.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE BIDEN: Under President Biden, America will not turn a blind eye to Russian bounties on the heads of American soldiers, nor will I put up with foreign interference in our most sacred democratic exercise - voting.

MONTANARO: So you can hear him there sort of choke up even a little bit speaking as a father. He had this clear theme of light, himself, versus darkness, Trump. And in the end, he tried to, you know, really put out a more hopeful and uplifting note.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE BIDEN: For love is more powerful than hate. Hope is more powerful than fear. And light is more powerful and dark. This is our moment. This is our mission. May history be able to say that the end of this chapter of American darkness began here tonight, as love and hope and light join in the battle for the soul of the nation. And this is a battle we will win. And we'll do it together.

MONTANARO: And, certainly...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE BIDEN: I promise you.

MONTANARO: And, certainly, if he does win, this is going to go down as a huge and remarkable speech. You know, most people would want a crowd. But frankly, he's never been a great arena speaker, like his former boss, Barack Obama. And this format seemed to suit him perfectly. It was intimate. It was serious. It's a format that for some is difficult, but it played to his strengths and really showed, maybe for the first time since he launched his candidacy, why in this moment he is the right person to be president, simply rather than simply not being Donald Trump.

GREENE: So interesting - that actually not having any audience at all, you think, might have been a real benefit to Biden and his style. Asma, I mean, you were covering a convention that looked like no other convention we've ever seen - Biden speaking to a mostly empty room. I say mostly because there were some reporters there, right? And you were one of them. What was it like in there?

KHALID: That's right. And so it's interesting to hear - you know, Domenico, you described this as this intimate chat that that Biden was having with the audience - because in the room, it was strange. It was quiet. It was dark. There were just a couple dozen reporters. We were all sitting in these solo socially-distanced, spaced-out chairs. And we had all been tested with those nasal COVID swabs multiple times during the week. But we were essentially his only audience. And it does feel like the TV camera optics of this speech did feel very different to those of us sitting in darkness in the room.

GREENE: Well, so we're going to be talking about President Trump and the Republicans as they hold their convention going forward. But before we move on from the Democrats, can we talk about some takeaways from this week. Asma, let me start with you.

KHALID: To me, the major theme of this week was voting, voting, voting. I mean, it's something that we heard former First Lady Michelle Obama talk about at the start of the week. And in conversations that I've had with Democrats and organizers who are working on mobilizing turnout, there is an anxiety about turnout this election cycle. And I felt like there was a similar theme of urgency about voting all week. You know, the question is whether Dems delivered on their goal this week with the convention. And I feel like that really depends on whether or not they actually see the kind of turnout they need to win in November.

GREENE: Domenico?

MONTANARO: Well, I mean, look. Big part of this has got to be progress over purity. And when I talk about that, I'm talking about unity, you know, between the progressive base of the party and the quote, unquote, "more moderate" wing that, certainly, Joe Biden represents. You know, they didn't always agree with Joe Biden. But they all said - all of his rivals - vote for Joe Biden. This was a very unified party. You heard even Ady Barkan, who suffers from ALS and has devoted his life to single-payer health care just saying, just elect Biden. We'll put a bill on his desk.

And, you know, the one thing I did notice, though, is that coming in, President Trump has had an advantage on the economy. And we didn't really hear an economic message that would break through. You know, I thought Kamala Harris had started to maybe get one when she was named Biden's running mate and talking about Trump squandering an economy handed to him by President Obama. But you didn't hear a lot of that this week. It was pretty standard, boilerplate Democratic economic talking points for the most part.

GREENE: OK. So the Republicans get their turn next week. We know the plans have been, let's say, evolving a lot for the president's convention. What should we expect?

MONTANARO: Well, we know some of the attacks on Biden that are going to be coming. They've been trying to call him a tool of the left, of the radical left, a Trojan horse. And, you know, implicit in that is that he's not really of the radical left but that they're just trying to put him in place to put in these radical policies. We didn't see much of Hunter Biden this week. We saw a little bit of him - Biden's son - introducing him. We're going to hear a lot about him probably next week about, you know, his role on this Ukrainian energy company that they've been - that Republicans have been trying to push. You know, and it's this big event with President Trump speaking from the White House which - wow, that is not something we've ever seen a president do before. And, you know, we're going to see a lot of Trump loyalists in the party and some right-wing icons. You're going to hear a lot about the economy and a lot about law and order.

GREENE: All right. One convention down, the next one to come. NPR's Domenico Montanaro and NPR's Asma Khalid, thank you both for your reporting all this week. Thanks for your reporting ahead of time next week and through the rest of the campaign.

MONTANARO: You're welcome. Thank you.

KHALID: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.