Challenge for Clinton: Counter Donald Trump and earn voter respect

US President Barack Obama and US Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton onstage at the Democratic convention on July 27, 2016.
US President Barack Obama and US Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton onstage at the Democratic convention on July 27, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

PHILADELPHIA (AFP) - Hillary Clinton faces the test of a lifetime on Thursday (July 28) as she accepts the Democratic White House nomination in a defining speech aimed at prizing voters away from Donald Trump - and convincing America to entrust her with the world's biggest job.

It is the centre-stage opportunity she came so close to seizing eight years ago during her first White House campaign, only to be defeated in her party's primary race by Barack Obama.

Clinton made history this week as the first female presidential nominee of a major US party. Now, she needs to deliver a home run in Philadelphia, a day after Obama upped the ante with a stirring address hailing Clinton as his political heir.

For days, the most powerful voices on the American left have lined up to convince voters that the former secretary of state and one-time first lady is uniquely qualified for the Oval Office.

But Clinton faces a major trust deficit among a US public that has followed every Clintonian turn of the past quarter century. Rocked by an e-mail scandal that refuses to die, she is now about as unpopular with voters as Trump.

And while Trump casts himself as an outsider, a political neophyte committed to upending the Washington establishment, Clinton faces the difficult task of appearing as the steady hand at the tiller even while promising to be a catalyst for change in America.

Clinton, 68, enjoyed a stream of unrestrained praise on Wednesday at the Democratic National Convention, from her running mate Tim Kaine to Vice-President Joe Biden to the independent former mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg.

Her chief rival in a bruising primary battle, Senator Bernie Sanders, has urged his supporters to draw a line under protests by "Bernie or bust" Democrats still angry over her victory.

But the most rousing Clinton sales pitch came from President Obama himself.

 
 

"I can say with confidence there has never been a man or a woman - not me, not Bill (Clinton), nobody - more qualified than Hillary Clinton to serve as president of the United States of America," Obama thundered before a cheering crowd.

Even Trump did his part, albeit inadvertently, with his urging of Russia to hack Clinton's e-mails landing like an unexpected gift in her lap.

The mogul sought to douse the outcry on Friday, by saying he was "being sarcastic," but the call for cyber espionage against the United States made even Republicans cringe.

"I think this issue has turned beyond politics and rhetoric," Clinton's campaign manager Robby Mook told CBS This Morning.

"This is now an issue of national security."

Clinton's backers unleashed a litany of criticism of Trump on Wednesday, with Kaine blasting him as "a slick-talking, empty-promising, self-promoting, one-man wrecking crew" and Obama calling him a demagogue.

On Thursday, Clinton will have to make the case herself.

While she must play to the party's base - and seek to soothe bruised Sanders supporters - a key mission is to appeal to crossover voters and independents wary of a Trump presidency.

"Donald Trump is making a lot of really big promises, and some people find those attractive," said her campaign chief Mook.

"What Hillary is going to do tonight, what we've done at this convention is make sure that people know the facts."

He acknowledged that Clinton, who will be introduced by daughter Chelsea, also knows "she needs to earn the voters' trust."

Clinton has never been as telegenic and personable a politician as her husband or Obama, whose oratorical skills were on full display on Tuesday and Wednesday.

She will balance her policy strengths with an attempt to connect with Americans watching from their living rooms as she faces a nation divided by intense Trump rhetoric, spikes in race-related gun violence, and heightened fear brought about by upticks in terrorist attacks around the world.

On Friday, Clinton and Kaine hit the road on a three-day Rust Belt bus tour through parts of swing states Pennsylvania and Ohio, where they will make their pitch in person to voters.

"We do know that there's a slice, however narrow, of those persuadable voters that are still making up their minds," Clinton press secretary Brian Fallon told reporters in Philadelphia as he previewed her speech.

"And we feel confident that by the end of this week, we'll have done a good job of laying the foundation of what the contrast is between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump."

Trump's campaign launched a pre-emptive strike in an message to supporters calling for a fund-raising blitz timed to upstage her evening address.

"Unless you want to be lied to, belittled, and attacked for your beliefs, don't watch Hillary's DNC speech tonight," read the call for donations.

"Instead, help Donald Trump hold her accountable, call out her lies and fight back against her nasty attacks."