In the back right corner of the wood-paneled Denver Room at Shakespeare’s Pizza, former state Rep. Ted Farnen wore sunglasses matching former Vice President Joe Biden’s trademark aviators. They also matched the image on the “Biden” pin on his lapel.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, only a handful of delegates and supporters were allowed in the room at once. Socially distanced from one another, they conversed through their masks, only taking them off to take a bite of garlic bread or a sip of beer or soda.
Under normal circumstances, the Democratic National Convention would’ve been held at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee in the middle of July. But the ongoing pandemic forced a change of plan. The event was moved to August and ultimately held virtually, centered at the city’s Wisconsin Center. In any other presidential election year, delegates would be taking part in the convention, supporting their candidate.
A delegate is an individual chosen to pledge their support to a specific candidate. During the primary election process, voters are actually choosing delegates to send to their respective parties’ convention in support of the candidate they voted for. At the convention, delegates cast their votes for candidates based on the vote distribution in their state. In total, Missouri’s Democratic delegation is 84 people: 80 delegates and six alternates.
Five Boone County delegates pledged their support for former Vice President Joe Biden this past week during the virtual convention. A sixth, Brett Stover, was elected as a Bernie Sanders delegate.
Tori Schafer is a third-year law student at MU representing the 4th Congressional District. This is Schafer’s first convention and her first time running as a state or national delegate. She started out working with It’s On Us under the Biden Foundation — to combat sexual assault — while she was an undergrad. From there, Farnen mentored her through the process of becoming a delegate.
“I think that the Missouri Democratic Party is handling everything very well given the circumstances,” Schafer said. “Everyone has been really supportive.”
Had this been a COVID-19-free year, Farnen would’ve attended his fourth convention. He was a part of the 1988 Democratic National Convention in Atlanta as a reporter and a part of the 2000 and 2012 Democratic national conventions as a delegate.
Farnen, an ’87 graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism, misses the relationships he builds while attending conventions in person. But, he added, “I think that most of the delegates, including myself, knew that there was a good chance that the convention was going to be held virtually.”
That didn’t stop the delegates from watching Biden’s nomination speech together.
On Thursday night, the parties and events that are normally put on by the host cities during the convention were replaced by a socially distanced watch party of sorts at Shakespeare’s South. Conversation quickly faded once Biden took to the podium. The supporters met Biden’s ideas with nods of approval.
At the end of it all, a round of applause ensued. “That was perfect,” Farnen said. “That is exactly what he needed to say.”
Among the optimists is delegate Gunnar Johanson, a second-year law student at MU. “You’re going to see a platform and a party that’s ready to lead this country out of an economic crisis, out of a social crisis,” Johanson said. “We’re not just against President Trump, we’re for solutions to these issues that are going to carry us forward for the next decade to two decades.”
The Democratic Party took only three Missouri counties in the 2016 election, including Boone County. Despite this, former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton would claim nearly 38% of the vote in the state.
Biden received 60% of the vote in the March 10 presidential primary in Missouri. He claimed 44 pledged delegates to Sanders’ 22.