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The old guard is still in charge at the Democratic convention

Analysis: Joe Biden's campaign is sending the message that this is no time to test out new leaders or theories.
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WASHINGTON — For Democrats, the future will have to wait.

A parade of prominent establishment Baby Boomers — and pre-Baby Boomers — reminded voters their set is in firm control of the party as more than a dozen rising stars were crammed into delivering a single quilted speech on the second night of the Democratic convention Tuesday.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., by far the most recognizable young Democrat in the country, was given her own one-minute speaking slot, but only because she was chosen by runner-up Bernie Sanders to act as a "second" for putting his name in nomination.

The message the Biden campaign sent to the rest of the country is that now is not the time to test out new leaders or pursue ideological aims. That's consistent with the way Biden ran his primary campaign, claiming the turf of the Obama administration he served in as vice president and challenging competitors — mostly younger and to his left — to define what was wrong with it.

He bet that the Democratic electorate, no matter its impulse for fresh blood or progressive policies, would feel more comfortable with a known-commodity nominee who would be hard for President Donald Trump to label as a risky alternative. He won, and now he's presenting himself and his party to Republicans and independents as the safe pick Democrats saw.

On the other side, Biden would like persuadable voters to see Trump as a danger both at home — where the coronavirus has claimed more than 170,000 American lives and wreaked havoc on the real economy — and abroad.

"With Joe Biden in the White House, you will never doubt that he will stand with our friends and stand up to our adversaries — never the other way around," former Secretary of State Colin Powell, a onetime fixture at Republican conventions, said in endorsing Biden on Tuesday. "He will stand up to our adversaries with strength and experience. They will know he means business."

Powell, 83, added bipartisan punch to a program that highlighted remarks from older men of the political establishment, including former Presidents Bill Clinton, 74, and Jimmy Carter, 95, former Secretary of State and 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry, 76, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, 69.

At 59, with no electoral experience, former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates stood out for her relative youth and inexperience as she criticized Trump for "relentless attacks on our democratic institutions."

They followed a keynote address delivered jointly by 17 next-generation Democrats, including Stacey Abrams, the 2018 Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Pennsylvania Reps. Brendan Boyle and Conor Lamb, Nevada state Sen. Yvanna Cancela, and Jonathan Nez, president of the Navajo Nation. The format highlighted the idea of a bench of Democrats waiting to take the reins of the party, but also limited the chance that any one of them would become a political liability for Biden.

"If this band of 17 radicals is the future of the Democratic Party, Americans should be very worried," the Trump campaign said of the keynoter speakers in an email Tuesday night. "They all hold far-left positions that are well outside the mainstream."

But while Biden has said he wants to be a "bridge" from one generation of Democratic leaders to the next, he is signaling that he is in no rush to start paying its construction costs.

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Joseph Mullen, an 18-year-old delegate for Sanders, told The Washington Post's "Power Up" column that younger Democrats have noticed the dominance of the "old guard of Democratic politics" on the first two nights of the convention.

"There's not enough young people represented in the lineup," he said.

Of course, Wednesday night's program includes Biden's choice for the No. 2 slot on his ticket, California Sen. Kamala Harris, who has been described as a "safe pick" and is also the first woman of color selected as a vice presidential nominee. At 55 and serving in her first term in the Senate, she's less old-guard than many of Tuesday night's speakers.

But even Harris, born in October 1964, is a Baby Boomer and, if more progressive than Biden, still solidly within the guardrails of the establishment.

For Biden, a young, progressive future is less of a concern than winning now. He has to hope that's true for young progressives, too.