It was his direct conversation with America.
His chance to outline the choice voters face in this election and an opportunity to show the differences between “four more years of the same” and the change he has promised throughout his campaign.
It was an introduction to Barack Obama.
In 2004, when Obama addressed the Democratic National Convention (DNC), he was a young, unknown Illinois state senator. His grace and brilliance at public speaking stunned America and left delegates and even some media gape-mouthed. The speech, one of the better convention addresses in recent memory, cut a clear path to his big moment Thursday night in front of a packed house 84,000 strong at Mile High Stadium, a path he hopes will lead him to the presidency.
True to his life, Thursday’s speech was not going to be easy for Obama.
After 50 primaries and state caucuses, America already knows Obama can deliver a great speech. They have read about his oratory skills and have heard him speak on TV. His reputation preceded him. This time around, just making a great speech as he did in 2004 wasn’t going to cut it. It wasn’t going to win him new supporters.
Instead Obama needed to introduce himself to America and defend against attacks that have questioned his patriotism and his ability to lead. He needed to battle the uncertainty of many voters and convince them of his values. He needed to draw a line in the sand and point to it.
He did that.
“In this election, the greatest risk we can take is to try the same old politics with the same old players and expect a different result,” he said, a direct shot at his presumptive Republican opponent John McCain, a three-term senator.
“At defining moments like this one, the change we need doesn’t come from Washington. Change comes to Washington. Change happens because the American people demand it — because they rise up and insist on new ideas and new leadership, a new politics for a new time.”
In many ways, Obama’s acceptance speech could end up the most important of his campaign. The pivotal moment when he started fighting back; where he put an end to the character assaults over his judgement and governance, potshots he has left largely unanswered all summer.
“If John McCain wants to have a debate about who has the temperament, and judgement, to serve as the next commander in chief, that’s a debate I am ready to have,” Obama said.
Forget letting Joe Biden do his dirty work. Obama can roll up his own sleeves.
It’s been a long road to Denver for Obama. In 2000, when the Democratic National Convention was in Los Angeles he tried to gain a floor pass and failed. He was a political nobody at the time. But a lot can change in eight years and after two terms of George W. Bush, Obama had an opening. His message that, by working together, America could be a more perfect union sank in with voters.
The challenges to win his party over were still great.
He had to fight the greased Clinton political machine in the primaries and withstand blistering attacks and bigoted stereotypes from conservative media, from Republicans — and even some fellow Democrats. He was called too popular, a celebrity, unproven as a leader.
But on Thursday, as if declaring to the world that the Democratic Party was now his and that he is in fact ready to lead it, Obama took aim at the innuendos that have weakened his position. Referencing his childhood, he spoke about his respect for his single mom and his grandmother who helped raised him. He touched on his work helping struggling families, the poor and the disenfranchised. He removed the gloves, yet without losing the grace he exhibited when he entered the national stage four years ago.
“I don’t know what kind of lives John McCain thinks that celebrities lead, but this has been mine,” he said after describing his humble upbringing and his family. “These are my heroes. Theirs are the stories that shaped me. And it is on their behalf that I intend to win this election and keep our promise alive.”
It was a good message. It was a better speech.
Despite its demonstration of his talent, Obama left an avenue for McCain to continue painting him as out of touch, even elitist. His clarion call to support the middle-class and his attempts to showcase his humble roots to working-class America was delivered amid a display full of pomp and theatrical poise. It was everything but run of the mill.
To the more than 84,000 at the speech, Obama — along with a vast array of speakers leading up to his nomination — addressed the packed stadium standing in front of a stage framed by Greek-looking columns similar to those used behind Bush during his speech in 2004. Fireworks blasted and boomed after. Confetti rained down. His applause line was extraordinarily long.
How much McCain will want to criticize — next week at his own convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul — what most experts agreed was a masterful speech is unknown. But, rest assured the attacks will come.
It’s an election season after all. Nothing less than the future of America is on the line.