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Can Hillary Clinton Seize the Moment In Historic Acceptance Speech?

The first three nights of speakers built a strong rhetorical foundation for Clinton, but they also set a high bar.
Image: Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton Appears With Vice Presidential Pick Sen. Tim Kaine
Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton looks on as her running mate Democratic vice presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) speaks during a campaign rally in Miami.Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

PHILADELPHIA — Over the first three days here the Democratic Party has showcased its roster of major stars. Now it’s up to Hillary Clinton to close the final night of the National Convention with the enthusiasm to carry the party through November.

The strong roster -- President Barack Obama, former President Bill Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden, first lady Michelle Obama and her vice presidential nominee, Tim Kaine -- built a strong rhetorical foundation for the 2016 nominee's acceptance speech. But they also set a high bar.

Clinton will be the only major headliner for the final night and will have history at her side when she becomes the first woman to accept a major party’s nomination since the all-male founders gathered in this same city two and a half centuries ago.

Aides say Clinton has been thinking about this speech for weeks, sending ideas to writers and bouncing them off people around her. She went back to work on the speech after appearing alongside the president last night and will likely keep tweaking it in the hours leading up to its delivery.

The core message will reflect that of her campaign: That Americans are stronger together than apart, trying to strike a contrast to Donald Trump’s more divisive world view. And it will reach back to her 1996 book, “It Takes a Village,” which helped elevate her in many Americans’ minds from a first lady into a political power in her own right.

Aids also say the speech will be uplifting and optimistic, like most of the Democratic convention so far, in contrast with the darker vision of America they feel was painted by Republicans in Cleveland last week.

Chelsea Clinton will introduce her mother. As a new mom of two, she’s expected to touch on themes of motherhood and the historical significance of this moment for future generations of women. Mostly, though, aides say she’ll just be a proud daughter introducing her mom.

But when Clinton takes the stage, she’ll face a challenge. Soaring rhetoric and major addresses have never been her strongest suit -- Wednesday night, Obama demonstrated the public speaking ability that helped defeat her in 2008 despite the odds.

“I am not a natural politician, in case you haven’t noticed, like my husband or President Obama,” Clinton said during a Democratic primary debate. “Look, I have said before and it won't surprise anybody to hear me say it, this is not easy for me.”

That said, Thursday night’s acceptance speech could be a sweet spot for Clinton, combining the two themes that have reliably produced some of her best moments.

One is women's rights and her “18 million cracks in the glass ceiling speech” from 2008 as well as her declaration that “Human rights are women's rights, and women's rights are human rights” in Beijing in 1995. Those are two of the most memorable speeches she has given in her long career.

Clinton has also been at her best when on offense, as she was in a speech earlier this year dismantling Trump on national security or taunting him in front of a shuttered Trump casino in Atlantic City.

Both of those elements will be at play for Clinton on Thursday night as she accepts the historic nomination and takes on Trump. And with a loyal audience of Democratic activists and officials, already fired up by the first three nights of speakers, Clinton is sure to receive a massive response.

Sustaining that enthusiasm through November will be the bigger challenge.