Confronting a “moment of reckoning,” Hillary Clinton is casting herself as a unifier for divided times and a tested, steady hand to lead in a volatile world.
“We are clear-eyed about what our country is up against,” she said in her speech Thursday accepting the Democratic presidential nomination. “But we are not afraid. We will rise to the challenge, just as we always have.”
Clinton’s national convention address follows three nights of Democratic stars, including a past and present president, asserting she is ready for the White House. Thursday night she was making that case for herself on the convention’s final night.
Acknowledging Americans’ anxieties, Clinton is vowing to create economic opportunities in inner cities and struggling small towns. She also says terror attacks around the world require “steady leadership” to defeat a determined enemy.
The first woman to lead a major U.S. political party toward the White House, Clinton was greeted by a crowd of cheering delegates eager to see history made in the November election. But her real audience will be millions of voters who may welcome her experience but question her character.
And Clinton will need to appease supporters of Bernie Sanders.
“Sanders’ supporters want to be reassured there will be concrete policy initiatives that advance the progressive agenda such as rejection ... of the keystone pipeline and nomination of Supreme Court justices that promise to overturn the ‘Citizens United’ ruling,” Gabe Shippy, president of the Hall County chapter of Young Democrats, said.
For Clinton, the stakes were enormous.
“It’s the speech of her life,” Wilson Golden, a delegate from Gainesville supporting Clinton at the convention this week, said. “In a word: important.”
Clinton is locked in a tight general election contest with Republican Donald Trump, an unconventional candidate and political novice. Even as Clinton and her validators argue Trump is unqualified for the Oval Office, they recognize the businessman has a visceral connection with some voters in a way the Democratic nominee does not.
Debra Pilgrim, chairwoman of the Hall County Republican Party, said Clinton’s character is suspect and found her speech Thursday to be disingenuous.
But Pilgrim also recognizes that getting Trump elected won’t be easy.
“We have a lot of hard work ahead of us to win this election,” she said. “I think if he stays on point and really starts to explain the finer details of his plans, he will be well served and will be the next president. But he must stay on point.”
Campaigning in Iowa Thursday, Trump said there were “a lot of lies being told” at Clinton’s convention. In an earlier statement, he accused Democrats of living in a “fantasy world,” ignoring economic and security troubles as well as Clinton’s controversial email use at the State Department.
A parade of speakers at the Philadelphia convention vigorously tried to do just that on Clinton’s behalf. First lady Michelle Obama, former President Bill Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden each cast Clinton as champion for the disadvantaged and a fighter who has withstood decades of Republican attacks.
The week’s most powerful validation came Wednesday night from President Barack Obama, her victorious primary rival in 2008. Obama declared Clinton not only can defeat Trump’s “deeply pessimistic vision” but also realize the “promise of this great nation.”
Seeking to offset possible weariness with a politician who has been in the spotlight for decades, he said of Clinton: “She’s been there for us, even if we haven’t always noticed.”
On the convention’s closing night, Clinton sought to reach beyond the Democratic base, particularly to moderate Republicans unnerved by Trump.
Following reports Russia hacked Democratic Party emails, Trump said he’d like to see Moscow find the thousands of emails Clinton deleted from the account she used as secretary of state. Hours later, Trump told Fox News he was being “sarcastic” although shortly after his remarks on Wednesday, he tweeted that Russia should share the emails with the FBI.
Former Reagan administration official Doug Elmets announced he was casting his first vote for a Democrat in November, and urged other Republicans who “believe loyalty to our country is more important than loyalty to party” to do the same.
Retired Marine General John R. Allen, a former commander in Afghanistan, said that with Clinton as commander in chief, “America will continue to lead in this volatile world,” according to speech excerpts.
“We’re hoping this unity will come about,” Golden said of Democrats. “Not everyone is going to be happy. But I think America is going to see the starkest contrast between the bizarre rantings of the Republican nominee … and I think what they’ll see in Hillary is that calm, steady, mature person …”
Sheila Nicholas, chairwoman of the Hall County Democratic Party, said she believes Democrats are quickly making Georgia a competitive state in national politics.
“We just need to get them to the polls,” she said. “We’re concentrating our efforts in registering Hispanic voters and making sure all Democrats in Hall County are still on the voter rolls.”
Ashley Bell, a former Hall County commissioner and delegate to the Republican convention last week, said he expects Democrats to pull even heading into August and the general election campaign.
“I think the Democrats will see a modest bump that will bring things back to a dead heat,” he said. “This will set the stage for a Super Bowl-type buildup to the first debates.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.