PHILADELPHIA — As Hillary Clinton playfully batted away an avalanche of balloons Thursday night, she appeared proud, happy and reconciled to her historic moment.
She had accepted the Democratic nomination with “humility, determination and boundless confidence in America’s promise,” taking her place as the first woman to lead a major presidential ticket on a night pulsating with emotion.
“When there are no ceilings,” she declared, “the sky’s the limit.”
Her speech lacked the poetic sweep of the President Barack Obama’s address Wednesday, but it was in keeping with someone who presents herself as a practical, dogged, policy-oriented striver who gets knocked down and then gets straight back up.
The choice she defined for the nation in 2016 is stark: a “moment of reckoning.”
The former first lady, senator and secretary of state set her sights on the White House and blasted Republican nominee Donald Trump, portraying him as a small man who got rich by stifling workers, who peddles fear and who lacks the temperament to be commander-in-chief.
She quickly reached out to disappointed Bernie Sanders voters at the end of a convention dedicated to healing the deep rift from their contentious primary race. With the Vermont senator watching from the arena, Clinton told his supporters: “I’ve heard you. Your cause is our cause.”
President Barack Obama congratulated Clinton at the conclusion of her speech.
“Great speech,” he tweeted. “She’s tested. She’s ready. She never quits. That’s why Hillary should be our next @POTUS. (She’ll get the Twitter handle, too)”
In the audience, Clinton supporters were moved to tears, including 16-year-old Victoria Sanchez.
“This is more than I ever could have imagined,” she said. “I know that I have just lived history and I can follow in her footsteps. This changes my entire life.”
After a lifetime in a polarizing political spotlight that has left her with plenty of enemies and dented approval ratings, Clinton set out to prove to voters that she could be trusted.
She avoided any show of contrition for controversies like the one over the private email server she used for official business while secretary of state that has again provoked questions about her honesty and integrity among many voters.
Instead, she presented herself as a dedicated and indefatigable fighter for children, the disabled, blue-collar workers, women and the poor, while promising a backbone of steel as she vowed to take out ISIS.
Throughout a speech punctuated by roars of applause and watched by a misty-eyed former President Bill Clinton, she repeatedly returned to attack Trump — who laid out a much darker vision of America’s future at his own convention last week.
“Don’t let anyone tell you we don’t have what it takes,” Clinton said. “Most of all, don’t believe anyone who says: ‘I alone can fix it,’ ” a reference to a part of Trump’s acceptance speech last week.
“Powerful forces are threatening to pull us apart,” she said. “Bonds of trust and respect are fraying. It truly is up to us. We have to decide whether we all will work together so we all can rise together.”
Turning to national security, Clinton warned that a president has to make decisions about war and peace, life and death.
“Ask yourself: Do you really think Donald Trump has the temperament to be commander in chief? Donald Trump can’t even handle the rough-and-tumble of a presidential campaign.”
She added: “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.”
Trump hit back — with a series of tweets.
“No one has worse judgement than Hillary Clinton – corruption and devastation follows her wherever she goes,” he wrote. “Hillary’s wars in the Middle East have unleashed destruction, terrorism and ISIS across the world.”
Stephen Miller, Trump’s senior policy adviser, blasted Clinton’s speech as an “insulting collection of cliches and recycled rhetoric.”
“She spent the evening talking down to the American people she’s looked down on her whole life,” he said.
But Clinton is working to persuade Americans that she understands their frustration and economic anxiety at a time when many of them still do not trust her. Her prime-time televised address is especially crucial because she has not so far generated the kind of passion among her supporters that Trump has garnered from his backers by channeling anger about the direction of the country.
She spoke of her wholesome middle class upbringing and said her family were builders of the American dream and not people “with their name on big buildings” — another dig at Trump.
Clinton took pains to reach out to white blue-collar workers, many of whom have been left behind by economic globalization and technological change and have been attracted by Trump’s anti-elite message.
“Right now, an awful lot of people feel there is less and less respect for the work they do,” she said, and admitted that politicians had not done a good enough job of showing they understand.
One of the major themes of the Democratic convention has been an attempt to reintroduce one of the most famous women in the world to the American people. And she admitted that if many Americans knew little of the woman behind the image, it may be her fault.
“The truth is, through all these years of public service, the ‘service’ part has always come easier to me than the ‘public’ part,” Clinton said.
Clinton also indicated she understood the need to reassure Americans shaken by a violent summer at home and an epidemic of terror attacks in Europe and the US. While Clinton and Obama have argued that ISIS is on the run, the economy is on the upswing, and Americans are safer than they have been in years, they are struggling to counter the dark image that Trump has painted of a nation in decline, chaos and disorder that resonates with many voters.
National security threats
Amid charges by Republicans that the optimistic mood of the Democratic convention has ignored the threat from ISIS and terrorism, Clinton was specific about the global national security threats that loom — though she didn’t use the term Islamic terrorism as the GOP repeatedly has called for.
“Anyone reading the news can see the threats and turbulence we face,” Clinton said. “From Baghdad to Kabul, to Nice to Paris and Brussels. From San Bernardino to Orlando, we’re dealing with determined enemies who must be defeated. No wonder people are anxious and looking for reassurance — looking for steady leadership.”
Following a spate of killings by police of African-American youths and massacres of police officers, Clinton laid out a firm stance on gun control, vowing that America should not have a president in the “pocket” of the gun lobby.
“I’m not here to take away your guns,” she said. “I just don’t want you to be shot by someone who shouldn’t have a gun in the first place.”
Ahead of her speech, retired four star General John Allen, the former head of US and international forces in Afghanistan, delivered a powerful address in which he told delegates that Clinton would be “exactly the Commander-in-Chief America needs.”
‘America will continue to lead’
“With her as our Commander-in-Chief, America will continue to lead this volatile world. We will oppose and resist tyranny and we will defeat evil. America will defeat ISIS and protect the homeland,” said Allen, who was surrounded on stage by 37 military veterans.
Clinton delivered her speech at the end of a largely successful convention, which helped mend the party after her divisive primary against Sanders. The mood on the convention floor Thursday was festive and upbeat — in contrast to the discontent that festered on the opening night Monday when die-hard Sanders fans loudly make their disappointment known.
Samantha Herring of Walton County, Florida, was a Sanders supporter but has decided this week to work hard to elect Clinton.
“Is it hard? Yes. I loved Bernie, but that’s why I have to vote for Hillary,” said Herring, who made signs reading “He has my heart, but she has my vote.”
— CNN’s Jeff Zeleny contributed to this report