Video: Road to the nomination

By Chief White House correspondent and political director
NBC News
updated 8/28/2008 12:20:00 PM ET 2008-08-28T16:20:00

"One for the history books" is a phrase that's thrown around all too easily these days.

But Wednesday night and Thursday night will certainly be one for those aforementioned books.

The question is: Will these nights simply be a page in the history of America or the start of a completely new chapter?

Barack Obama's official nomination as the Democratic Party's standardbearer was a very poignant moment for millions of Americans.

As the first non-white major party nominee, Obama is carrying a big load on his shoulders. He's holding the hopes and dreams of a lot of folks who thought the presidency was only reserved for white men.

So it's worth taking a step back and realizing the historical significance of Wednesday night.

As my late boss, Tim Russert, pondered back when Obama secured presumptive nominee status in June — imagine what it will be like to teach American government or history in inner-city high schools this fall.

Already, Obama has secured himself a page in the history book of America. But he has a long way to go if he wants his own chapter.

And that journey starts at Invesco. Acceptance speeches can make or break presidential candidacies. It was Al Gore's 2000 acceptance speech that relaunched his candidacy and nearly saved him. John Kerry's speech and overall ineffective convention nearly sank him in 2004 (though he was almost saved by the debates).

And George H.W. Bush's famous "read my lips" worked for him big time in '88.

The expectations for Obama are through the roof and the decision to change venues has been hotly debated.

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I tend to agree with the venue decision, because I think it allows the speech itself to be the centerpiece. Had Obama simply kept the speech contained at the Pepsi Center, it would have looked and felt like just another speech. And Obama has given plenty of those speeches. So, even a great speech inside Pepsi would have been treated as run-in-the-mill.

If Obama gets it done on an even bigger stage, then the speech can give the campaign some lift.

Bottom line: by moving the speech to a bigger venue and raising expectations, the campaign has also raised interest — meaning more folks will listen. Now it's up to Obama to somehow strike a balance between giving some soaring rhetoric (which his flock loves) and giving swing voters their meat and potatoes. It's no easy feat.

There's also another intriguing speech Thursday by Al Gore. He'll get a rock star reception, like Paul McCartney showing up a U2 concert to jam on a set or two.

Of course, Thursday night could become a split screen moment since McCain is unveiling his running mate tomorrow in Dayton, Ohio. The expectation is that this will leak out today or tonight once McCain contacts his choice.

As we learned last week, while the campaigns are good at keeping secrets, new running mates are not.

If the GOP veepstakes were stock, folks would be selling Romney short, holding their Pawlenty shares and buying up Lieberman and Meg Whitman.

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