When Alana Cloutier kicks back to listen to vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris take the stage at the Democratic National Convention later this week, there will be a sense of deja vu.
Cloutier moved to Humboldt from the San Francisco Bay Area, Harris’ home and the area where her political career was born, as she rose to the U.S. Senate and beyond.
The pair will have come a long way.
Harris will be in Milwaukee, accepting the formal nomination to take on President Donald Trump alongside presidential nominee Joe Biden.
And Cloutier will be watching from her home in eastern Kansas, a member of the Kansas delegation to the DNC, which kicks off Monday night.
That opportunity would not have been available to her had she not moved to Kansas.
"I think it was one of those opportunities that Kansas gave me," she said. "I was politically active and paid attention when I lived in California ... But [being a delegate] is something I never even really considered trying to do in California because there are 40 million people who live in California and not that many delegates."
Normally, Cloutier and her counterparts in the Kansas delegation would be watching from inside the arena in Milwaukee when Harris, Biden, former President Barack Obama and others address party members.
But for this year’s convention, due to COVID-19, the delegates will be like millions of other Americans — watching on TV.
That doesn’t mean, however, that being a delegate is without meaning. The normal convention-going experience involves packed schedules with caucus meetings, parties and lots and lots of floor speeches.
And while many of those things will be taking place over Zoom, they still will be happening, officials say.
"It will still give people, as much as you can, the feeling of being there and getting excited and listening to some good speakers," Kansas Democratic Party Chair Vicki Hiatt said.
That includes replicating a convention staple, the delegation breakfast, where bleary-eyed attendees enjoy coffee, scrambled eggs and speeches from various politicians.
The Democratic Party of Kansas will be hosting similar events virtually. That includes one Tuesday with their female Congressional candidates to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote.
Delegates acknowledged that it would be disappointing to witness all of this from behind a computer screen.
But Anne Pritchett, a retired teacher and leader of the Johnson County Democratic Party, said the unique nature of the event made it memorable in its own way.
"It’s sad that we can’t be there because there is an energy in that crowd I’ve always wanted to be a part of," she said. "But it is also historic because it is virtual ... And that’s kind of a bucket list item, too, to do things that are important and historic."
Uncertainty from the Democratic National Committee meant that preparations for all the pomp and circumstance did not begin in earnest until fairly recently.
"We really didn’t dig in until about three or four weeks ago," Hiatt said. "Because we did not have the schedule from the DNC to know when we wanted to put our events in place ... We’ve been scrambling to piece that all together, working around what they all have going."
And there are benefits to having the convention remotely, delegates said. They pointed out that the commute to their living rooms is far shorter than the one the delegation was originally set to complete from the Chicago suburbs to downtown Milwaukee.
Despite the logistical undertaking of planning virtual events, Hiatt said that she was somewhat relieved not to have to shepherd the delegation in what would be her first convention.
And there is far less of a cost associated than with attending the event in person, with the normal air tickets and hotel rooms unnecessary.
"I never ran before now because I didn’t think I could afford it," Pritchett said.
Still, delegates will miss the chance to interact in-person with their counterparts from Georgia to Guam, although organizers say they are attempting to duplicate the experience virtually.
The convention also provides a time for members of the party from across the ideological spectrum to reconcile differences that may have emerged during the primary.
Such gaps were apparent in the official platform, or formal set of goals or values, with the party electing not to formally endorse a Medicare for All plan favored by many progressive members.
That frustrated some supporters of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and others who feel the public option, which Democrats did formally endorse, does not go far enough.
Still, Cloutier, a Biden delegate, said she was impressed at how much the candidates and the platform committee considered rural issues in drafting the document.
"They were actually talking to people in rural areas and small towns," she said.
And despite schisms within the Democratic Party nationally, delegates said the Kansas chapter was feeling energized ahead of some competitive Congressional races in the fall.
That feeling was bolstered by a group of younger members, with some as young as 18 or 19 — meaning Hiatt had to remove the customary bottle of wine that was in each delegate’s gift bag.
That shift has been building for years, party members say.
"We had our convention in Topeka ... and it was a noticeably younger group than even the previous year," Cloutier said. "There are a lot of young delegates and it is awesome to see everyone get fired up and see it through their eyes."
Delegates underscored that there may well be hiccups with Zoom streams or missed emails.
But Pritchett said that the ultimate focus would remain on November’s general election and voting in Democrats up and down the ticket.
"This isn’t our battle, the convention isn’t our battle," she said. "Our battle is the next three months and winning elections."