5 takeaways from final night of Democratic National Convention

Joe Biden formally accepted the Democratic Party's presidential nomination.

August 20, 2020, 11:53 PM

Former Vice President Joe Biden formally took the reins of the Democratic Party on Thursday night in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, assuming the role of standard-bearer in an impassioned speech that culminated a more than 30-year pursuit of the nomination.

After Democrats nominated Biden for the presidency in a reconstructed virtual roll call on Tuesday night, he formally accepted inside a mostly empty room, filled with only a small press pool. His speech marked the official end of the primary, and the party's shift to the general election, just 75 days away.

Democrats capped off four days of virtual celebrations by focusing on making the case for Biden -- and contrasting him with President Donald Trump. The themes of the night covered family, the military, voting rights, the economy, the working class, and, most of all, Biden.

Here are 5 takeaways from the final night of the convention:

Biden's 1st-ever acceptance speech appeals to 'all Americans'

After almost half a century in public life, Biden delivered the most significant speech of his lengthy career -- one that he put a "tremendous" amount of effort into, according to an aide.

The address, which spanned roughly 30 minutes, marked the climax of a storied career that included decades in the Senate, eight years as the No. 2 in the White House and two failed bids for the presidency -- in 1988 and 2008.

It was also the first time he delivered an acceptance speech for the presidential nomination.

"Here and now I give you my word. If you entrust me with the presidency, I will draw on the best of us, not the worst. I will be an ally of the light, not the darkness. It is time for us, for we, the people, to come together," Biden said, just before he formally accepted the nomination.

The speech sought to meet the unprecedented moment of crisis, with the convention unfolding against the backdrop of a pandemic, a tumultuous economy and a country wrestling with an introspection on race.

Biden's long-held ambitions for the highest office in the country appeared secondary to his dedication to restoring steady and effective leadership to a nation in disarray.

People listen to the Democratic National Convention being broadcast in a parking lot outside Chase Center in Wilmington, Del., Aug. 20, 2020.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

"This campaign isn't just about winning votes. It's about winning the heart and, yes, the soul of America," he said, reiterating the message with which he launched his campaign last April.

"This is a life-changing election. It will determine what America will look like for a long, long time," he said. "Character is on the ballot. Compassion is on the ballot. Decency, science, democracy. They're all on the ballot. Who we are as a nation, what we stand for and most importantly, who we want to be, that's all on the ballot. And the choice could not be more clear."

The newly minted nominee pitched his vision for the presidency as one that goes beyond partisanship and schisms -- touting his ability to unify what is broken.

"I will be an American president. I'll work hard for those who didn't support me, as hard for them as I did for those who did vote for me," he said. "That's the job of a president, to represent all of us, not just our base or our party. This is not a partisan moment. This must be an American moment."

Getting to know Joe: Family man and healer-in-chief

The final night of the convention highlighted Biden's personal story with recollections from his friends and family, including remarks from his children and grandchildren, and tributes to his son, Beau, who died from brain cancer in 2015.

In an effort to detail who Joe Biden is, the night featured the small things, like his many nights on Amtrak and his well-known love of ice cream, but also issues that came to define much of his life, like Beau's death and his family's experience when Beau was in the military.

Biden's granddaughters spoke about how "pop" calls them every day and sneaks ice cream from the freezer, and they said they initiated the family meeting where they encouraged him to get into the presidential race.

World War II veteran Ed Good speaks as Julia Louis-Dreyfus, serving as moderator, listens during the fourth night of the Democratic National Convention, Aug. 20, 2020.
Democratic National Convention

Even the video that introduced Biden's official remarks focused on what he overcame as a child and his decision to stay in the Senate even after a car accident killed his wife and daughter shortly after he was elected in 1972.

Many of the speakers shared personal experiences with Biden they said were examples of his kindness and empathy.

Actress Julie Louis-Dreyfus, who emceed the evening, drew a direct contrast between Biden and Trump's personalities. She said Biden called her when she was diagnosed with cancer and his warmth and kindness made her cry.

"Our current president has made me cry, too, but it's never had anything to do with his warmth or kindness. Joe Biden's empathy is genuine. You can feel it," she said.

Biden's longtime friend Sen. Chris Coons spoke about the president's faith, which has been the subject of attacks from Trump. Coons said Biden's faith is strong and deeply personal, but it helps him bring comfort to people in difficult times, including when Coons said his own father was in hospice.

"Time and again, I've seen him stop everything and listen, really listen, to someone who needs a shoulder to cry on or a partner in prayer. That compassion, that empathy, is part of his character," Coons said.

In another video, a 13-year-old boy named Brayden Harrington talked about his experience meeting Biden at a campaign stop in February when they bonded over his struggle with a stutter. Biden has been open on the campaign trail about struggling with a stutter since he was a child.

"I'm just a regular kid, and in the short amount of time, Joe Biden made me feel more confident about something that's bothered me my whole life. Joe Biden cared. Imagine what he could do for all of us," he said in the video.

Former Vice President Joe Biden accepts the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination during a speech delivered for the largely virtual 2020 Democratic National Convention from the Chase Center in Wilmington, Del., Aug. 20, 2020.
Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

The military's central role in the Biden family

A night devoted to Biden included a heavy emphasis on the military, showcasing Biden's own sense of duty in his years of public service, his sacrifice and his intimate knowledge of being part a military family.

"I think Joe Biden cares about doing his proper duty for the United States, and if he is elected, that's what he will do," said Ed Good, 95, a World War II veteran and lifelong Republican since the 1960s who voted for Trump in 2016, but is now voting for Biden. Good called Trump the "worst president we've ever had."

Biden's commitment to military families, his allies and supporters asserted, is integral to who he is.

"It was the very first time that I, as a military spouse, felt like someone was listening to us and someone cared," Lakisha Cole, who's husband serves in the military, said of Biden in a prerecorded segment.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., a former U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who lost both her legs and partial use of her right arm, sought to implicitly cast Trump as unfit to hold the title of commander-in-chief, while touting Biden's intrinsic ability to lead the country's military.

"Joe Biden understands these sacrifices because he's made them himself," she said. "When his son Beau deployed to Iraq, his burden was also shouldered by his family. Joe knows the fear military families live, because he's felt that dread of never knowing if your deployed loved one is safe. He understands their bravery, because he has had to muster that same strength every hour of every day Beau was overseas."

A united Democratic Party: Former rivals become ardent backers

The former 2020 candidates for the Democratic nomination dropped any disagreements with Biden during the primary to vouch for his policies and his personality as the best choice for president.

"Now I come to this convention proudly supporting Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Joining fellow Democrats who were squaring off in competition just a few months ago," former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg said, kicking off a prerecorded virtual conversation with Sens. Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, former Congressman Beto O'Rourke and businessman Andrew Yang.

Warren recalled when Biden visited Boston on the one-year anniversary of the marathon bombing.

"Everyone of course was enormously honored to have the vice president here," she said.

"But at some point in that speech, he shifted to the parent who had lost a child, to the man who had lost life, to someone who had experienced loss very personally and he spoke to each of the families from the heart."

Yang said he gets excited about Biden's ability to set new standards for policies the party will support.

PHOTO: Democratic presidential candidates Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O'Rourke, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Andrew Yang, during the final night of the 2020 Democratic National Convention, Aug. 20, 2020.
Democratic presidential candidates from top left, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O'Rourke, and bottom row from left, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Andrew Yang, during the final night of the 2020 Democratic National Convention, Aug. 20, 2020.
Democratic National Convention

"The magic of Joe Biden is that everything he does becomes the new reasonable. If he comes with an ambitious plan to address climate change, all of a sudden everyone is going to follow his lead," he said.

Even Sanders appealed to his more progressive supporters who have been skeptical of Biden, emphasizing the importance of a Democratic win in this election.

"Joe Biden, you have a human being who is empathetic, who is honest, who is decent. And at this particular moment in American history, my god, that is something that this country absolutely needs. And all of us, whether you are progressives, whether you are moderates or conservatives, have got to come together to defeat this president," he said.

'The baton has now been passed': Democrats rally to get out the vote

Seeking to avoid the same fate as 2016, Democrats have threaded a key theme throughout their convention week -- a call to get out the vote. That message was particularly poignant on Thursday, when the convention heavily focused on voting rights, featuring a five-minute tribute to late Rep. John Lewis -- a "great spirit," as former Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young said.

"We have another opportunity to bring more of our citizens into political participation," Lewis said in a clip featured in the video, which reflected on his extraordinary commitment to the civil rights movement that he carried through in his decades in Congress. "I have on my marching shoes! I'm fired up! I'm ready to march!"

Leading into the tribute, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms invoked Lewis, saying he "walked gently amongst us, not as a distant icon, but as a god-fearing man who did what he could to fulfill the yet unfulfilled promise of America" to underscore how important voting is in this election.

"People often think that they can't make a difference like our civil rights icons. But every person in the movement mattered -- those who made the sandwiches, swept the church floors, stuffed the envelopes," Bottoms said. "The baton has now been passed to each of us. We've cried out for justice. And now we must pass on the gift John Lewis sacrificed to give us. We must register, and we must vote."

Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., too, sought to push voters to not take "our democracy for granted" -- citing her history and identity to push the country to see it's "promise."

"My people survived centuries of slavery, genocide and brutal assimilation policies," she said. "I stand here today, a proud 35th generation New Mexican and one of the first Native American women ever elected to Congress. I'm a symbol of our resilience, as the embodiment of America's progress as a nation ... as our Constitution is under attack, we must work for it by getting involved, by registering voters, by voting."

This report was featured in the Friday, Aug. 21, 2020, episode of “Start Here,” ABC News’ daily news podcast.

"Start Here" offers a straightforward look at the day's top stories in 20 minutes. Listen for free every weekday on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, the ABC News app or wherever you get your podcasts.

Related Topics