WHAT TO WATCH: Democrats open a new kind of convention

FILE - In this Aug. 12, 2020, file photo Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden and his running mate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., participate in a virtual grassroots fundraiser at the Hotel DuPont in Wilmington, Del. The Democratic Party will convene Monday, Aug. 17, sort of, amid a pandemic that has upended the usual pomp-and-circumstance of presidential nominating conventions. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)
FILE - In this Aug. 12, 2020, file photo Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden and his running mate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., participate in a virtual grassroots fundraiser at the Hotel DuPont in Wilmington, Del. The Democratic Party will convene Monday, Aug. 17, sort of, amid a pandemic that has upended the usual pomp-and-circumstance of presidential nominating conventions. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

ATLANTA – The Democratic Party will convene, sort of, amid a pandemic that has upended the usual pomp-and-circumstance of presidential nominating conventions.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez will be in Milwaukee, which he’d chosen as the 2020 convention host city. But presidential candidate Joe Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, won’t be. Nor will the 57 state, territorial and international delegations, party activists and media hordes that would have filled a downtown arena to see Biden and Harris nominated to take on President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in November.

Instead, Democrats will put on essentially an all-virtual convention, broadcasting two hours of prime-time programming starting at 9 p.m. EST, much of it pre-taped, Monday through Thursday. No crowds. No hullabaloo. And no balloons.

What to watch on opening night Monday:

THE MESSAGE: The theme is deliberately vague, “We the People,” and the lineup doesn’t fit neatly into any box. Viewers will hear from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who finished second to Biden in the nominating contest, and Republican John Kasich, the former Ohio governor and 2016 primary rival to Trump. To underscore the gap: That's a self-identified democratic socialist who wants a “political revolution” and a conservative Republican who was once a budget hawk in Congress and fought labor unions in the Ohio statehouse. And both will pitch for Biden.

That reflects a key reality of Biden’s candidacy: It’s always been more of a moral and competency case against Trump than about the particulars of Democrats’ policy fights. Hence his campaign pledges to “unify the country” and “restore the soul of the nation.” Yet Biden has spent the last several months trying to shore up relationships with the party's left flank, which remains skeptical about him. He has a lengthy policy slate he touts as the most progressive of any modern Democratic nominee.

The convention’s opening night will test how seamlessly the Biden campaign can spend the next 78 days casting such a wide net across a splintered American electorate.

SANDERS’ TONE: The Vermont senator is a two-time runner-up for the nomination but by Biden’s own admission has done as much as any losing presidential candidate to shape a major political party. Four years ago, Sanders was at the microphone to nominate Hillary Clinton on the floor in Philadelphia, but the bitterness between their camps was apparent, and it wounded her against Trump.