Barack Obama, the first African-American presidential nominee of a major US party, was last night set to stand before 80,000 supporters inside Denver's Invesco Field bearing a pledge to bring an end to Republican ownership of the White House with three short words of promise: "Eight is enough".
As Mr Obama formally accepted his party's nomination to be America's first black President, he told 80,000 of his party's faithful in the Mile High stadium that he planned to put America's economy back on track, restore its moral standing in the world, withdraw from Iraq and establish energy independence.
It was a night of vertigo for Democrats brought on not by altitude or steep stands but the dizzying expectations placed on the candidate, giving his address on a set adorned with faux Greco-Roman columns and on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech.
Mr Obama had set his own wow-bar dauntingly high. But instead of relying solely on grand oratory last night, he strove to strike a balance between inspiration and specifics, urging voters to support him and running mate Joe Biden while cataloguing his goals of cutting taxes on the middle class and ending dependence on foreign oil within 10 years.
"We meet at one of those defining moments," Mr Obama, 46, began. "A moment when our nation is at war, our economy is in turmoil, and the American promise has been threatened once more."
He sought also to mine the weariness of Americans with George Bush. "America, we are better than these last eight years," he said, according to a prepared text of his speech. "We are a better country than this." He went on: "We are here because we love this country too much to let the next four years look just like the last eight. On November 4, we must stand up and say: 'Eight is enough'."
On America's reputation in the rest of world, Mr Obama, with a speech entitled "America's Promise", argued that the "Bush-McCain foreign policy has squandered the legacy that generations of Americans – Democrats and Republicans – have built, and we are to restore that legacy."
As to the Bush reputation for unilateralism, he said: "I will build new partnerships to defeat the threats of the 21st century: terrorism and nuclear proliferation; poverty and genocide; climate change and disease. And I will restore our moral standing so that America is once more the last, best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom, who long for lives of peace, and who yearn for a better future."
And he dared Republicans to claim ownership of the terrorism issue. "Don't tell me that Democrats won't defend this country. Don't tell me that Democrats won't keep us safe," he said.
The real task was not only to inspire his troops going into battle with the Republicans, with John McCain nipping at him in the polls, but to convince ordinary voters that he understands what ails them and that he can make things better. Thus, promises in his speech to give tax cuts "for 95 per cent of all working families" and to spend $150bn in 10 years on creating renewable sources of energy.
A long fringe shielding her eyes from the high-plains sun, Jennifer Hudson, the singer and actress, opened the pageant with the national anthem before leaving the stage to a slow parade of speakers, all paying tribute to the new nominee, including Martin Luther King III. He said his slain father remains "in the hopes and dreams, the competence and courage, the rightness and readiness of Barack Obama."
The crowd, protected by ample squirts of sunscreen, fell quiet for John Lewis, a veteran US Congressman and the last living speaker at the March on Washington in 1963 alongside King. "We've come a long way, but we still have a distance to go," he said, "but we must march again... We must march like we have never marched before to elect the next President of the United States, Barack Obama."
To cheers, Al Gore, the loser in 2000, came and implored them to "seize this opportunity for change". Had America not voted for Bush in 2000, he said, "we would not be denying the climate crisis, we would be solving the climate crisis."
Beyond the high walls of the stadium – the Rocky Mountains painting their own skyline as dusk fell to the West – rumours grew that the Republicans, who begin their convention in St Paul, Minnesota, next Monday, meant to leak the name of Mr McCain's running mate, possibly minutes before Mr Obama's appearance. Democratic officials warned that such subversion would amount to "political malpractice".
The mere speculation was distracting enough. If not last night, then the name of Mr McCain's running mate is likely to be known this morning with the shortest odds being given to Mitt Romney, a Mormon and former governor of Massachusetts. But he had a handicap – his personal wealth as a former risk-capital tycoon. Another name, Tim Pawlenty, Governor of Minnesota, abruptly cancelled numerous public appearances on Thursday, fuelling talk he had been chosen.
The Obama speech was all that remained between the Democrats and a convention more successful than they could have dared to expect. Even the high drama of the Clintons relinquishing the torch may have served the party well in the end by heightening media attention. In this stadium last night, Mr Obama could look out and claim firmly the leadership of his party.
The promised fireworks were all very well. And the famous singers – Sheryl Crowe and Will-i-am as well as Ms Hudson – were uplifting. And no one doubted Mr Obama's oratorical skills. But when finally the stadium emptied and Americans flicked off their TVs, the Democrats were left to wonder. Had their new leader done what he came to do? Had he convinced a still wondering country to take what by any reckoning will be a very big plunge on 4 November: to elect him, young, more or less inexperienced, and, yes, black, though he may be.
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