Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden with the late former Sen. Kay Hagan (middle) and her husband Chip Hagan, shortly before Kay Hagan's death in 2019. Chip Hagan is a NC delegate to this year's Democratic National Convention. (Photo submitted by Chip Hagan) Joe Biden and the Hagans
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden with the late former Sen. Kay Hagan (middle) and her husband Chip Hagan, shortly before Kay Hagan's death in 2019. Chip Hagan is a NC delegate to this year's Democratic National Convention. (Photo submitted by Chip Hagan)

The 2020 convention is a mostly virtual affair, but Chip Hagan and several NC delegates say coronavirus hasn’t dampened their enthusiasm. 

When Chip Hagan attended the Democratic National Convention eight years ago in Charlotte, the world was a different place. 

His wife, the late US Sen. Kay Hagan, was serving as a de facto host for the festivities, putting the couple at the center of activity at the convention. 

This year, Chip attends as a delegate without Kay, who passed away in October after a long illness stemming from a tick bite. And instead of joining his fellow delegates on the convention floor in Milwaukee, he’s joining them virtually from his Greensboro home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s a big change,” Hagan said. “Kay was so tied-in and knew so many people and was so highly regarded. In 2012 she was the senior Democratic senator, so she played a very important role in the convention, and we were really busy.”

Much of that activity included meeting with attendees, attending social gatherings, and reconnecting with old friends. 

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This year’s convention—which kicked off on Monday and runs through Thursday—is entirely virtual with speakers, delegates and other attendees tuning in from home to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is slated to accept his nomination Thursday night. 

Charlotte was to serve as a host city again in 2020, but this time for the Republican National Convention beginning next Monday. After an unsuccessful attempt to move the convention to Jacksonville, Fla., fewer than 400 Republican delegates will still be traveling to Charlotte, for their very scaled-down event Monday. 

‘No convention is worth putting lives in danger.’

At the Democratic National Convention this week, 72 delegates representing all 13 of North Carolina’s congressional districts attended. Delegates complete an application process and are elected at Congressional district conventions and the state Democratic convention. They cast their votes at the national convention to support the presidential and vice presidential candidates, as well as the party platform. 

While most agreed with the party’s decision to suspend in-person activities, convention veterans like Chip lament the loss of face-to-face interaction.

“That’s the thing I’m most going to miss—that ability to visit with other delegates and people attending, both elected officials or not,” he said.

For first-time delegates like Da’Quan Love, there’s certainly a level of disappointment at not being able to celebrate amid the traditional pomp and festivity of the convention floor. But there’s also a sense of relief that the party insisted on holding the event as safely as possible.

“I’m super-excited, and while I had hoped to be in Wisconsin, no convention is worth putting lives in danger,” said Love. “I’m really proud of the way our party has prioritized health and the safety of delegates.”

Love, who is a delegate for Joe Biden representing NC’s coastal District 3, said he’s hosting convention-watching parties via his social media channels, and he’s attended several Zoom events, including a North Carolina Democrats’ kickoff Sunday. And while it won’t be quite the same as being on the convention floor, he’s making his home in Warsaw as festive as possible.

“One of the great things is the DNC mailed all the delegates our placards,” he said. “One of the rooms in my home has a blue wall, and I put my placard up on that nice blue wall to be my background during Zoom parties.”

Savings for a virtual event

Carl Newman, a first-time delegate representing District 4 in NC’s Triangle region, sees another silver lining to the virtual event. He said traveling to the convention can cost thousands of dollars, a sum that may exclude some potential attendees.

“The fact that we’re not all going has made some of us think about how much it usually costs,” he said. “And I hope that in the future we might not need to be virtual, but we’ll still have a virtual option for some for equity reasons.”

Newman said he took a portion of the money he would have spent on travel and donated it to campaigns he supports. And while he’s disappointed to miss out on the in-person convention experience, he said that meeting virtually has become such an everyday occurrence in the past few months that it doesn’t feel totally out of the ordinary to convene this way.

“In the last few months leading up to the convention, we’ve done a host of candidate forums and Durham legislative town halls and fundraisers,” Newman said. “I think at this point we’re all so familiar with how it works, there’s nothing strange about doing politics this way because we’ve had so much practice.”

Still, for convention veterans like Chip Hagan, there’s something about being able to see his fellow Democrats in person. He said he plans to get together for a small socially-distanced watch party with a few delegates from the Greensboro area. But no matter how he watches, he said the excitement for the candidates and the policies of the Democratic Party remains just as high.

“It’s a different scenario that we’re talking about,” Hagan said. “But what I’ve been really pleased with is the amount of information they’ve been able to get out about what the Democratic Party is all about. The platform is very good, and I’m excited about Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and what they can bring to the United States.”

Want to tune in yourself? You can watch the major speeches planned for the Democratic National Convention on major news networks, C-Span, and the DNC’s official website. Speeches will be aired from 9 to 11 p.m. each night.