WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Joe Biden will speak directly to Americans about his plan to unite a country battered by the coronavirus pandemic and economic misery on Thursday (Aug 20) as he accepts the Democratic nomination to challenge President Donald Trump in the Nov 3 US election.
Biden's speech on the fourth and final night of the Democratic National Convention will be a high point of a half-century in the public eye for the former US senator and vice-president, who fared poorly in two previous runs for the White House in 1988 and 2008.
It will conclude a nominating convention that was held virtually because of the pandemic, with the party's biggest names, rising stars and even prominent Republicans lining up via video to support Biden and attest to the urgency of ending what they called Trump's chaotic presidency.
The day brought new fodder for the Biden campaign to highlight that chaos. Steve Bannon, an architect of Trump's 2016 election victory, was arrested on fraud charges, while in New York a judge ruled Trump cannot block a prosecutor's subpoena for eight years of his tax returns.
"Donald Trump has run the most corrupt administration in American history," Kate Bedingfield, Biden's deputy campaign manager, told reporters.
Trump on Thursday denied knowing about the organisation linked to Bannon's arrest, which had sought donations to help build a wall on the US-Mexico border that was Trump's signature 2016 campaign promise.
"I feel very badly. I haven't been dealing with him for a long period of time," Trump said. He also appealed the decision on his tax returns.
Biden's vice-presidential choice, Kamala Harris, the first Black woman and Asian American on a major presidential ticket, accepted her nomination on Wednesday and accused Trump of failed leadership that had cost lives and livelihoods.
A BREAK WITH TRADITION
Biden, 77, heads into the general election campaign with a clear and steady lead in opinion polls over Trump, 74, who will accept the Republican nomination for a second White House term at his own convention next week.
Democrats have worked to expand Biden's support during the convention, particularly by showcasing prominent Republican supporters such as former US Secretary of State Colin Powell and former Ohio Governor John Kasich, as well as Americans who voted for Trump in 2016 but now blame him for the economic and health toll of the pandemic.
The acceptance speech will give Biden his biggest audience since he was largely sidelined from the campaign trail by the pandemic in March.
He will speak directly to camera in a mostly empty event centre in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, not in front of a roaring crowd of convention delegates, adding to the unusual nature of a convention conducted remotely through video feeds.
US Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, a close Biden ally, said he expected the speech would be focused on unity, not Trump.
"He recognises this isn't about Donald Trump. It's not about Joe Biden. It's about us, and it's about who's going to move us forward in a way that reminds us of the best in America, not the worst," Coons said.
Trump has campaigned across the country to offer counter-programming to the Democrats, a break with tradition in which candidates limit their activities during their opponents' conventions.
The president held a campaign event on Thursday near Biden's birthplace of Scranton in the battleground state of Pennsylvania, where he slammed his Democratic challenger's long record in government.
"Biden is no friend of Pennsylvania," Trump said, arguing his opponent backed policies that Trump said had cost some workers their jobs, including global trade deals, the Paris climate accord and clean energy plans.
'HATE AND DIVISIONS'
Other scheduled convention speakers on Thursday include Biden's 2020 primary rival, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, along with Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and US Senator Tammy Duckworth, both of whom were on Biden's short list of possible running mates.
"Every American must now decide. Can America be a place where faith is about healing and not exclusion? Can we become a country that lives up to the truth that Black lives matter?" Buttigieg will ask, according to excerpts of his speech.
Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg is also set to speak, to the dismay of some former staffers for his own short-lived presidential campaign. They argue his broken pledge to keep them employed through November was a mockery of the Democratic Party's platform on workers' rights.
Biden, who became a US senator from Delaware in 1973 before becoming Obama's vice-president, captured the nomination by convincing Democratic primary voters he was the best bet to beat Trump.
Despite questions about his age and criticism of his moderate stances in a party that has lurched leftward, he was able to quickly unite the Democrats' sometimes fractious progressive and moderate wings with the goal of defeating Trump.
His last primary rival, US Senator Bernie Sanders, ended his campaign in April, and on Monday urged his supporters to back Biden, saying he would end the "hate and divisions" fostered by Trump.