The strategic question of the hour becomes whether Hillary Clinton can excite her base and win any new voters on Thursday when she finally takes to that televised stage.
Or has the American electorate largely made up its mind, for good or bad, about who she is and what she represents?
Her poor poll ratings on trust are discussed to the point where she’s been forced to publicly acknowledge it, just like her challenges as a campaigner.
But the big speech comes in the context of battle against a foe who, no matter what you think of him, is on the rise despite or because he ditched the rule book.
Both major parties now tell you the choice in November turns binary – Clinton or Donald Trump.
Fueling fear to rally turnout from Democrats, from Republican dissidents and from independents, may be her only option. She may choose to leave that to surrogates, such as California Gov. Jerry Brown, who bellowed in Philadelphia Wednesday: “Trump is a fraud!”
One feature to listen for is whether she makes a direct appeal to Trump’s potential voter bloc by arguing that he hasn’t the skill, the will, or the capability to address their real concerns, and whether she sidesteps or defends against his taunts.
A lesser question is whether Clinton will mention having been raised in the United Methodist Church. Remember, Jerry Falwell said 10 years ago that she’d energize the Republican conservative evangelicals against her more than if Lucifer was the Democratic presidential candidate.
The first-woman aspect has its appeal, but also its risks — complicated by the fact that she was first lady and lived in the White House because of her spouse’s election. Does she hint at independence from the previous Democratic president?
Some things about her address are a pretty safe bet.
Nobody will mistake her for anarchist Emma Goldman, commanding crowds in Union Square early in the last century. Nor will she match William Jennings Bryan concluding an address that helped send him to the Democratic nomination with: “You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold!”
Nor is she expected to out-schmooze Bill Clinton by discussing who the “real” Hillary is.
The most likely scenario is that her fans will love it, her haters will hate it, and life and the heated campaign will go on as before. That’s what veteran Hillary-watchers to her left and right have come to expect.
But, hey, this year is full of surprises.