PHILADELPHIA -- When David Bradford hosted a Joe Biden debate watch party in his Philadelphia apartment in October, only one person showed up. More than a dozen people were running to be the Democratic presidential nominee back then, Biden's early lead in the polls was slipping, and pundits were pointing to the lack of enthusiasm for his campaign as a sign it was doomed.
Eight months later, Biden is all but assured to win the Pennsylvania primary Tuesday, along with primaries in six other states and the District of Columbia. (Bernie Sanders suspended his campaign in April but remains on the ballot.) That will put Biden close to formally clinching the nomination.
In Pennsylvania, where Biden is something of a favorite son, with roots in Scranton and a home nearby in Wilmington, the army of establishment Democrats who long backed him and fans who liked him from the get-go are celebrating -- briefly, socially distanced, and with eyes toward defeating President Donald Trump in November.
"I'm excited," Bradford said last week. "I was amazed then how few people in his own backyard were showing up for him. That feels like a whole different time now. He's the guy to beat Trump."
"I'm not an 'I told you so' person," U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans said with a laugh. "I think there was always enthusiasm from the beginning, and I know that was a constant issue people kept raising, but look -- I came out for him on Day One because I thought it's what America needed, and I still do."
U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, another Philadelphia Democrat, said Democratic voters "are completely animated to end this presidency. The enthusiasm question is one of the more overrated story lines in politics."
Despite winning a roller-coaster of a primary season, and now with the robust backing of Democrats who ran against him, Biden still doesn't poll as well as Trump when it comes to at least one metric for enthusiasm. In an Economist/YouGov poll last week, just 39% of registered Democrats had a "very favorable" opinion of Biden. Trump, meanwhile, was viewed very favorably 66% of registered Republicans.
And given the coronavirus pandemic, Biden's nomination is unlikely to bring the typical spectacle of celebration. The Democratic National Convention, where he will officially become the nominee, is slated for Aug 17 to 20 in Milwaukee. But both the party and Biden have said the event could take place virtually, at least in part.
When Hillary Clinton clinched the nomination in June 2016, her supporters attended a huge victory rally at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. That followed an A-list concert-fundraiser where John Legend and Stevie Wonder played. But Biden has been doing appearances mostly from a TV studio in his Delaware basement since early March. The campaign has held virtual fundraisers and rallies with varying degrees of reach and technological success, several focused on Pennsylvania, a key state in November and where his campaign is headquartered, in Philadelphia.
Another loss from coronavirus: The rituals of election dayProtests over the police killing of George Floyd have shifted Biden's campaigning back into the public this week. He walked through downtown Wilmington to meet with members of the community Sunday, and on Monday he did a rare in-person meeting with clergy and community leaders in Wilmington.