LEILA FADEL, HOST:
More than 30 years after his first run for president and after some big early losses in this year's primary, Joe Biden accepts the Democratic presidential nomination tonight. The former vice president's remarks cap off the fourth and final night of this all-virtual Democratic National Convention. I'm joined now by NPR political correspondent Asma Khalid and senior political editor Domenico Montanaro. Hello to you both.
ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hi there.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey. Thanks for having us.
FADEL: So, Asma, we'll start with you. You'll be in the room tonight for Biden's remarks in Wilmington, Del. Set the scene a little bit.
KHALID: Yeah. You know, Leila, he'll deliver a speech in kind of strange surroundings. He'll be in the same city where his national political career first began. Yeah, he'll be in his hometown of Wilmington, Del., as you mentioned. But if it's anything akin to last night's remarks with Sen. Kamala Harris, there will be, you know, some cameras in the room and a couple dozen socially distant reporters but no, you know, big, cheering crowds in an arena with stadium seating, and that's all because of the pandemic. So Joe Biden won't be able to rely on applause lines to kind of carry him through. And I'm really fascinated by this, Leila, because, you know, what arguably might be one of the most important speeches of his political career will also be perhaps one of the most unusual.
FADEL: Definitely. Domenico, do we know from the Biden campaign what he intends to say tonight?
MONTANARO: Yeah. According to the campaign, they said that he's going to stress unity, which is something that he's done from the beginning of his campaign. His opening campaign event in Philadelphia was all about that despite these divisive times. And he's going to stress resilience to overcome hardships and crises, which Biden knows something about from his personal life experience, and will lay out, they say, a vision for the path forward.
FADEL: Now, Asma, you've reported on Biden through his primary campaign and also reported on how a number of progressive groups feel about him. How do you think this unity message might be received?
KHALID: I think that's an interesting question, Leila, and in part because, you know, as you mentioned at the top, that Biden has long been a part of public life. We're talking about a man who spent nearly 50 years in public service. And the Democratic Party today that he is leading is not the same party as it was when Joe Biden entered the Senate in the 1970s. He has certainly evolved, and we've seen that with a number of his current policies.
But even as he's adopted more progressive policies around, say, the economy or climate change, he still physically represents an old guard of the party. He is a 77-year-old white man that is leading a party that has been hungry for change around issues of racial justice. And the nostalgia that he speaks of - the bipartisanship, the uniting the country even in divisive times - this is a message that some progressives in the party have told me they've been skeptical of. And so I'll be watching to see how Joe Biden's message is able to be convincing to them or not.
FADEL: Now, Domenico, let's take a step back, look at this week as a whole. What did the Democratic party hope to accomplish?
MONTANARO: Well, you know, part of why Biden was able to win the primary was because people saw him as the most likely, most able to defeat President Trump. And he's come in with a lead into this convention. He - and their goal is to lock in the people who, you know, have been on his side who might be persuadable and to appeal to some of those new voters who Asma is talking about who should be on board but maybe aren't totally sold on Biden. So there's a lot on the biography side for Biden to soften him up a little bit.
The Democratic Party, of course, is diverse - they wanted to highlight that - not just racially and ethnically but generationally as well. And Democrats wanted to showcase a more optimistic vision for America compared to what they've seen the last 3 1/2 years of what they see as darkness under President Trump. They also wanted to reach out to those persuadable voters who might be disaffected by Trump. And in appealing to them, they're saying, in a way, make this an asterisk election. You know, you might not agree with Biden and the Democrats on everything, but Trump is a threat to democracy. And that's something that former President Barack Obama drove home last night.
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BARACK OBAMA: Do not let them take away your power. Do not let them take away your democracy. Make a plan right now for how you are going to get involved and vote. Do it as early as you can, and tell your family and friends how they can vote, too.
KHALID: And, Leila, I find that message, the emphasis on voting, to be so critical to what we've heard from Democrats all week. If there is one central throughline of this convention, to me, it has been the emphasis on voting. We heard Michelle Obama, the former first lady, make this point on the first night of the convention. She was actually wearing a necklace with the words vote on them. Hillary Clinton made this point last night. She made it very personal, using her own defeat as this cautionary tale as to what can happen if not enough people vote. And I will say, I cannot really remember a convention in recent memory with such specific and repeated appeals to voting, emphasizing, you know, that it's not just about you making sure you get out to vote. You got to make a plan as to how to do this.
FADEL: So a sense of urgency with them. Sticking with you, Asma, Kamala Harris is said to be at Biden's speech tonight. And one thing that struck me hearing her last night was her specific references to her immigrant roots. She's the daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants. Did that strike you?
KHALID: It did. It did seem like she was speaking more openly about her immigrant roots than some of what we heard during the primary cycle. And part of this is she was trying to emphasize the universality of her own story. We are a country where a number of people have immigrant roots. You know...
KHALID: Tonight we'll hear from another mix of people, folks like Sen. Cory Booker and Tammy Duckworth. But one thing I think that's worth remembering is, as Domenico said, this is a Democratic Party that is trying to appeal to various generational and racial diverse aspects of its coalition.
FADEL: And next week it will be the Republicans' turn to make the case for why Donald Trump deserves four more years. NPR's Domenico Montanaro and Asma Khalid, thank you.
MONTANARO: You're welcome.
KHALID: You're welcome.
FADEL: And we'll have live special coverage of tonight's convention starting at 9 p.m. Eastern. You can follow updates at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.