Local delegates to this week's 2020 Democratic National Convention say the event's new online format works well enough and that they are hopeful the party will turn dissatisfaction with President Donald Trump's performance into gains at the ballot box Nov. 3.
Speaking by phone Tuesday, delegates Jesse Aguilar and Mary Helen Barro said speakers including former First Lady Michelle Obama made inspiring speeches Monday that appealed to a broad spectrum of the electorate, not just progressives.
They acknowledged challenges stemming from the unprecedented virtual format, noting caucus meetings had to be conducted by Zoom teleconferencing software and music took the place of a live audience because of social distancing requirements. Internet problems diminished Barro's experience and Aguilar said the event's energy level didn't compare to the party convention he attended four years ago in Philadelphia.
But both said they came away feeling like the Democratic Party has a chance at winning back control of the White House.
"I'm feeling cautiously optimistic that we can have change in November. And I do say cautiously because … you're not going to get this easily," said Aguilar, a longtime teacher at East Bakersfield High who has attended the last two party conventions and was looking forward to going to Milwaukee until it was canceled because of COVID-19.
Barro said based on the DNC Hispanic and Black caucus meetings she participated in, key themes were protecting voting rights, preserving the U.S. Constitution, strengthening the rule of law and mending international relations damaged by Trump.
She and Aguilar rejected recent Republican assertions that the Democratic Party has become radicalized and no longer serves the interests of mainstream America.
"I think the Democratic Party is broadening its umbrella," she said. "They want to have a big tent. They want to include everybody."
Aguilar added the "radical" label — Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, has called Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden a "Trojan Horse for the radical faction of his party" — was "just kind of an attempt by Republicans to define the ticket."
McCarthy's reelection campaign did not deliver on an offer to comment on the Democratic convention before The Californian's deadline. But spokesman Drew Florio did say the House minority leader feels honored to have a speaking role at next week's Republic National Convention.
“His remarks will focus on the GOP agenda to help renew the American Dream, restore our way of life, and rebuild the greatest economy ever,” Florio said by email.
Aguilar said a high point for him Monday was a speech by Kristin Urquiza, whose father, a fervent Trump supporter, died from COVID-19. He said he was watching with his daughter and she started to tear up when Urquiza was speaking.
Aguilar's hope now, he said, was that Democrats stay above the mud-slinging that often comes with political campaigns and that the party can show it has a plan to deal with the pandemic, the economy and "moving forward" in general.
"I think the division that's been created the last four years has been absolutely horrible," he said. "I'm hoping that this convention shows an alternative world view and an alternative possibility of what this country can be in the next four years as compared with the last four years."
Barro, a Bakersfield diversity consultant and former longtime Republican who has attended previous Democratic conventions but never before as a delegate, said she thought the convention has been wonderful so far.
Reflecting on the many challenges facing the nation, she said she misses politicians like former Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Bakersfield. Since his retirement, she says, the Republican Party has become too audacious.
"We need a good, functioning Republican Party. We don't have one now, and that's what's terrifying to me," she said. It takes both parties to govern, she added, "but right now there's so much hatred. … It's pathetic."