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The Memo: Democrats pitch Biden as the back-to-normal candidate

Joe BidenJoe BidenObama, Clinton reflect on Mondale's legacy Biden, Harris commend Mondale in paving the way for female VP Mondale in last message to staff: 'Joe in the White House certainly helps' MORE is decent and normal.

That was the implicit message on the second night of the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday, which featured speeches from Biden’s wife Jill, two former presidents and one former Republican secretary of State.

The theme might, in a different year, seem flat or overly modest. But Team Biden’s bet is that it will be just what voters are looking for amid a global pandemic, severe economic disruption and ongoing tensions over racial justice.

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Reassurances of normalcy and competency might be more highly prized than sweeping promises of radical change in 2020. The focus on Biden’s biography also poses a contrast between his personality traits and those of President TrumpDonald TrumpHouse votes to condemn Chinese government over Hong Kong Former Vice President Walter Mondale dies at age 93 White House readies for Chauvin verdict MORE.

Whereas the latter grew up in wealth and has had his personal life played out in tabloids, Democrats made sure to highlight Biden’s modest upbringing, as well as the weight of tragedy that he has had to endure.

The night’s emotional high point came less with Jill BidenJill BidenBiden, Harris commend Mondale in paving the way for female VP The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - All US adults can get vaccine; decision Friday on J&J vax Bidens attend grandson's confirmation MORE’s speech — delivered from a schoolroom in Delaware — than in the biographical video that preceded it.

In it, she talked about the scenario that confronted her when she first met Biden, who had been widowed and had lost an infant daughter in a 1972 car crash.

“A man and two little boys standing in the wreckage of unthinkable loss” was how she described Biden and his two sons, Beau and Hunter, at the time.

Beau Biden later died from brain cancer in 2015, at the age of 46. 

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“It was summer but there was no warmth left for me,” Jill Biden said about the days after Beau’s death, going on to describe watching her husband return to his duties as vice president during the Obama administration.

The tragedies in Biden’s personal life are well known to politics watchers, but the convention — even a virtual one — offered an opportunity to tell that story to a wider audience.

Earlier moments sought to humanize Biden in other ways. 

Jacquelyn Brittany, a security guard whose effusive meeting with Biden in an elevator went viral last year, formally nominated him as Democrats' presidential pick.

Cindy McCain, wife of the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCain'Real Housewives of the GOP' — Wannabe reality show narcissists commandeer the party George W. Bush: 'It's a problem that Americans are so polarized' they can't imagine him being friends with Michelle Obama Congress brings back corrupt, costly, and inequitably earmarks MORE (R-Ariz.), recalled the friendship between the two men.

And Colin PowellColin Luther PowellOvernight Defense: Biden makes his Afghanistan decision Colin Powell on Afghanistan: 'We've done all we can do' Is nonpartisan effectiveness still possible? MORE, who served as secretary of State under President George W. Bush, said he supported Biden because he believed the Democrat shared the same basic values as himself.

“We need to restore those values to the White House,” Powell said.

Republicans will look askance at the support from Powell, not least because the former secretary has now backed the Democratic candidate in the past four presidential elections.

Still, the Biden team and the convention organizers seem intent on making their nominee as acceptable to as broad a swathe of voters as possible.

The McCain video and Powell endorsement Tuesday built upon a similar message from John Kasich, the Republican former governor of Ohio, the previous night.

At the other end of the spectrum — and presumably to the irritation of some on the left — Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOvernight Energy: Treasury creates hub to fight climate change through finance | Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez introduce 'Green New Deal for Public Housing' | White House defends 'aspirational' goal of 62,500 refugees Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez introduce 'Green New Deal for Public Housing' MORE (D-N.Y.) played only a tightly circumscribed role Tuesday.

It had been leaked in advance that the progressive star would speak only very briefly. It only became apparent in the moment, however, that her role was to second the nomination of Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOvernight Energy: Treasury creates hub to fight climate change through finance | Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez introduce 'Green New Deal for Public Housing' | Don't attack Zoom for its Bernie Sanders federal tax bill Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez introduce 'Green New Deal for Public Housing' MORE (I-Vt.), as part of the formalities of the vote that would make Biden the nominee.

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The set-up, which caused some confusion on social media, felt like a boxing-in of Ocasio-Cortez, who has been featured heavily in pro-Trump advertising that tries to link Biden to her brand of democratic socialism.

Tuesday was a night on which no particular name outshone all others, as former first lady Michelle ObamaMichelle LeVaughn Robinson ObamaGeorge W. Bush: 'It's a problem that Americans are so polarized' they can't imagine him being friends with Michelle Obama The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - US vaccine effort takes hit with Johnson & Johnson pause Biden, Obamas and celebrity guests announce coronavirus vaccination TV special MORE had done on Monday. 

Former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams led a cadre of rising stars in the Democratic Party delivering a joint keynote touting the party's diverse base.

Former President Clinton hit Trump for evading responsibility as the pandemic hit the United States.

“The Oval Office should be a command center. Instead, it’s a storm center,” Clinton said. “There is only chaos.”

And former President Carter — at 95, the oldest living ex-president — delivered a video voice-over backing Biden.

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It was an unspectacular but effective second night for Democrats, who got the substantive business taken care of: Biden is now the official presidential nominee, after a state-by-state roll call that was all the better for being freed from the confines of a convention hall.

Biden first sought the presidency in 1988 and is now finally his party’s chosen standard-bearer.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.