Hillary Clinton will declare “a moment of reckoning for America” on Thursday night when she becomes the first woman to formally accept the Democratic presidential nomination.
In a speech due to be introduced by her daughter Chelsea and after performances by Carole King and Katy Perry, the former secretary of state takes the stage in Philadelphia with the weight of world expectations on her shoulders.
Fifty-two countries have had a female head of state already and Clinton would join Britain’s second female prime minister, Theresa May, and German chancellor Angela Merkel at the top table of elected leaders were she to win the US general election in November.
But Clinton has fallen behind Donald Trump in opinion polls after a Republican convention last week that painted a dark vision of a world that only he could make safe again.
Initial division among Democrats has been overcome through barnstorming speeches from two presidents, another first lady and a vice-president, who raised the stakes for their candidate by warning that her opponent posed an unprecedented threat to American diplomacy.
“Tonight in her speech Hillary is going to stitch together each of these themes and talk about how this election is really a moment of reckoning for the voter,” Clinton’s campaign manager Robby Mook told reporters in advance of the long-awaited speech. “Are we going to succumb to some powerful forces that are tearing at our social fabric or are we going to come together to solve these problems … to build a nation that works for everyone?”
Aides are relieved that, despite fractious scenes involving supporters of Clinton’s former rival Bernie Sanders at the beginning of the week, the Democratic convention in Philadelphia has for once pulled bigger television audiences than Trump. They hope Clinton’s speech will provide her with an even bigger bounce as she heads off on a bus tour of rustbelt battlegrounds this weekend.
They also hope her speech will exploit concern among Republicans about Trump’s growing flirtation with and support from Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
“This if the first time in modern history that we’ve presumably had a foreign power seek to engage in and influence in our election,” said Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri on Thursday, referring to the ongoing speculation that Russia was behind the hack of Democratic emails that led to the resignation of party chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
Touting itself as the party of inclusiveness and diversity, Democrats have welcomed to the stage a number of Republican and independent politicians in an overt bid to appeal to moderate and conservative voters disillusioned by Clinton’s bellicose GOP rival.
“What we heard in Cleveland last week wasn’t particularly Republican – and it sure wasn’t conservative,” Barack Obama told the convention on Wednesday night. “What we heard was a deeply pessimistic vision of a country where we turn against each other, and turn away from the rest of the world. There were no serious solutions to pressing problems – just the fanning of resentment, and blame, and anger, and hate.”
The president also compared Ronald Reagan’s view of America as a “city on a hill” with the apocalyptic vision Trump laid out in Cleveland.
On Wednesday, Michael Bloomberg, a disaffected Republican who has shunted a party affiliation, made a powerful case for why Clinton was the best – and only – alternative to a Trump victory.
“There are times when I disagree with Hillary,” he said. “But whatever our disagreements may be, I’ve come here to say: we must put them aside for the good of our country. And we must unite around the candidate who can defeat a dangerous demagogue.”
For months, the Clinton campaign has actively courted moderate Republicans and conservatives. The former secretary of state has calibrated her economic vision to appeal to hard-hit blue collar workers who scorned her during the primary. Their efforts have resulted in a number of defections, including from former party officials and retired generals.
“We obviously welcome everyone who wants to be a part of a more inclusive campaign that embraces a more inclusive vision of America,” Palmieri, the campaign communications director, told reporters on Thursday.
The line-up of speakers on the final day of the convention includes Doug Elmets, a former Reagan administration official and Jennifer Pierotti Lim, a co-founder of Republican Women for Hillary. A video on Wednesday included a clip of 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney denouncing the party’s current nominee, a stark example of the turmoil in the GOP caused by Trump’s ascent.
On Thursday, Tim Kaine used his debut at the convention to offer a personal version of this theme. During his speech, Clinton’s vice-presidential pick pointed to his wife’s parents sitting in the audience.
“Linwood Holton, he is still a Republican,” Kaine said of his father-in-law, the former GOP governor of Virginia. “But he is voting for an awful lot of Democrats these days. An awful lot of Democrats.”
Kaine then addressed the millions of Americans like his father-in-law, who, dismayed by their party’s standard-bearer, face an election day choice between Clinton and staying home.
“If any of you are looking for that party of Lincoln,” Kaine told them. “We have got a home for you right here in the Democratic party.”