Hartford — An unconventional political convention in the most unconventional of times closed Thursday night with the Connecticut delegation gathered on the infield dirt of a minor league ballpark, cheering the image of Joe Biden looming on a jumbo video screen.
The delegates’ presence at Dunkin’ Donuts Park was the consequence of a COVID-19 pandemic that has become a central exhibit in Biden’s case against the re-election of President Donald J. Trump.
Flanked by American flags, the former vice president pitched himself as everything he says the president is not: empathetic and committed to curbing COVID and addressing racial justice, tax equity and climate change.
“United we can, and will, overcome this season of darkness in America,” Biden said. “We will choose hope over fear, facts over fiction, fairness over privilege.”
While it was Biden smiling on the screen beyond left field, beneath a Chevy-sized coffee cup that steams when a home-team ballplayer hits a home run, it is Trump who has unified the Democrats, typically a fractious group in presidential election years.
“I think this moment is clearly without parallel,” U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy said. “I mean, we’ve probably never had a president this incompetent. We’ve probably never had a president who’s made decisions that led to the deaths of this many people. This is an existential moment.”
The COVID pandemic is blamed for the deaths of 4,458 people in Connecticut, a number equal to nearly three-quarters of the 6,127 seats in Dunkin’ Donuts, each one empty Thursday night and every other night in a baseball season that never was.
Nationwide, the death toll is 173,000.
“No generation ever knows what history will ask of it,” Biden said. “All we can ever know is whether we’ll be ready when that moment arrives. And now history has delivered us to one of the most difficult moments America has ever faced — four historic crises, all at the same time. A perfect storm.”
Those crises are what Biden described as “the worst pandemic in over 100 years, the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the most compelling call for racial justice since the 60’s, and the undeniable realities and accelerating threats of climate change.”
Biden said Trump has failed on all counts.
Four years ago, when there was no Republican incumbent to challenge, Democrats turned inward, weighing Hillary Clinton against Bernie Sanders. As U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney of the 2nd District predicted last year, there would be no ideological litmus test for Democrats this time.
An abstraction then, the Trump presidency is now a reality.
No dissension was evident on the field where the Yard Goats, a Double-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies, try to prove they are ready for The Show. It was neither the time, nor place for Democrats to ruminate about Biden’s shortcomings as a nominee.
“Joe Biden walks in the shoes of the American people. He understands their lives,” said U.S. Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, D-3rd District. “He understand their insecurities. And what he has done and what he will do tonight is to work to restore the trust of the American people in our government.”
The previous night Barack Obama spoke of his admiration for Biden, his vice president and the man he called a brother, despite being “from different places and different generations.” Meant entirely as a compliment, the generational reference was double-edged.
Biden is from a collegial era in the U.S. Senate, one long gone. In a time of foment over the role of police and their fraught relationship with people of color, progressives complain he too narrowly talks about bad-apple cops, rather than broad themes of racial justice.
He brings none of the generational change that excited Democrats here in 1992, when 46-year-old Bill Clinton erased two decades of frustration and futility. Republicans had carried Connecticut in every presidential race since Richard Nixon’s re-election in 1972.
Nor does Biden carry the sense of history that accompanied the 47-year-old Barack Obama in 2008, when he carried Connecticut with 61% of the vote. His coattails guaranteed the loss of Congressman Chris Shays, leaving no New England Republican in the U.S. House.
As candidates, Clinton and Obama were 30 years younger than Biden, who will turn 78 on Nov. 20.
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, who is 41, said no one cares — not this year.
“This president has done more than unify the Democratic Party,” Bronin said. “This president has unified the Democratic Party, plus a whole lot of independents and, as you’ve seen this week, a whole lot of former or current Republicans, as well.”
Thursday was a four-night convention boiled down to a single live event, a place to distill talking points to the essence of a presidency unlike any other. The rhetoric was beyond sharp. They spoke of Trump in apocalyptic terms: He is thief, a saboteur, an indifferent leader in a time of crisis.
“This president has directly, boldly, explicitly threatened almost everything that we as a nation and a democracy hold dear. If you love this country, you cannot ignore the threat he poses,” Bronin said. “You cannot ignore the importance of this moment.”
Attorney General William Tong said he had come from a sneak inspection at the postal center on Weston Street. He said he and a staffer found a sorting machine, dismantled and seemingly discarded, evidence of a willingness to disrupt an election in which a majority of voters are expected to vote by mail.
“Right there, plain as day, was one of these huge mail processing machines that could process up to 35,000 pieces an hour. It’s sitting out there in the parking lot, exposed to the elements, totally dismembered, totally not operational — junk, garbage,” Tong said.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who was Tong’s predecessor, said the president’s actions exposed him as a thief, a man willing to steal the election. And his inactions, Blumenthal said, make him complicit in the deaths of thousands of Americans.
“Donald Trump has killed Americans through his negligence, his contempt for the rule of law and science. And it’s coming across so powerfully and convincingly,” Blumenthal said.
One of the youngest delegates was Michael Cerulli, 19, of Trumbull. He is a rising sophomore at the University of Connecticut and the president of the Connecticut College Democrats. He said Biden was addressing generational concerns, particularly climate change.
The lateness of the Connecticut primary — twice delayed due to COVID from April until August 11, long after Sanders stopped campaigning and endorsed Biden — spared the college Democrats from the sharp debates seen four years ago over Sanders and Clinton.
Marty Dunleavy, a former Democratic National Committee member from New Haven who worked on a campaign to draft Biden four years ago, then helped run Sanders’ campaign in Connecticut, said the unity is more than a reaction to Trump.
With Biden and Sanders, there is none of the animosity that lingered between Sanders and Clinton. Sanders frequently tells supporters how Biden took him seriously when he arrived in Washington as a socialist, when many Democrats did not, Dunleavy said.
“There clearly was personal animosity that oozed from Bernie and Hillary, and it was just hard for people not to notice that,” Dunleavy said.
One of the delegates was Aundré Bumgardner, a Black man who gave Republicans a jolt of youth and diversity with his election to the state House of Representative in 2014 at age 20. Three years later, he no longer was in the House or the Republican Party.
The GOP’s inaction after the violent protests of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., drove him away. He said he talks with old friends in the party who are disillusioned with Trump and others whom he says “really drink the Kool-Aid.”
Long before Biden spoke, Gov. Ned Lamont stepped away from a gaggle of reporters to field a call from Steve Ricchetti, who was Biden’s chief of staff in the White House and chaired the 2020 campaign.
Lamont was the first governor to endorse Biden, committing a year ago, as did Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz.
He returned to take a question about what is at stake.
“Oh, I think everything’s at stake. I’m 66 years old. I’ve never seen such a consequential election in my life,” Lamont said. “Another four more years of Donald Trump, that may be irreversible. Joe Biden comes in, Kamala Harris, we get back to our core American values.”
Watching was Chris Dodd, the former Connecticut senator who oversaw the vetting of vice presidential candidates, a process that ended with a Biden-Harris ticket. Without taking a turn at the microphone, Dodd slipped away as Murphy was addressing reporters.
Dodd is 76, gone from the Senate for a decade.
His role in vetting women to run with Biden came under fire as a former waitress — a woman allegedly victimized in 1985 by Sen. Ted Kennedy in a drunken episode memorably recounted in GQ — spoke out against Dodd playing that role.
Dodd was not the instigator, but she said he did nothing to stop Kennedy when he groped her and pushed her on Dodd.
Then Politico reported that Dodd supposedly was stunned that Kamala Harris had no regrets for her ambush of Biden at a debate.
“She laughed and said, ‘That’s politics.’ She had no remorse,” Dodd told a longtime Biden supporter and donor, according to Politico.
Away from the gaggle Thursday night, a reporter asked about the “no remorse” story.
“Anonymous source said something,” Dodd said. Then pivoting to praise of Biden, he said, “He’s a great choice.”
But did you say that?
“I’m not going back there,” Dodd said. “I’m just going to say he made a great choice.”
Married for 21 years, Dodd is the father of two daughters. His youngest, 15-year-old Christina, waited patiently while her father repeatedly praised Joe Biden and his choice of a vice president, Kamala Harris.
It was not a night for unpleasantries.