© 2024 WKNO FM
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Under Pressure: This Could Be The Most Important Speech Of Hillary Clinton's Life

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton takes the stage at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia Wednesday night following President Obama's speech.
Bill Clark
CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton takes the stage at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia Wednesday night following President Obama's speech.

Hillary Clinton is no stranger to speaking at political conventions — she has done it four times before. But nothing will compare to the pressure and sky-high expectations she faces tonight when she will accept the Democratic nomination for president, becoming the first woman of a major political party ever to do so.

She is expected to hit opponent Donald Trump but also lay out her own vision for America — likely a more positive take on the country than her GOP rival, and more in the style of President Obama's speech Wednesday night.

Clinton also has the difficult task of trying to reintroduce herself, a daunting task for someone who has been in the national public eye for more than two decades.

If past is prologue, here's a look back at her previous DNC speeches — and what they could tell us about what she might say tonight.

1996, Chicago

Clinton didn't speak in 1992 when her husband was first nominated as a presidential candidate. But four years later, the first lady did take the stage to defend both herself and Bill Clinton. The New York Times wrote:

"With a feathery touch but clear political intent, Hillary Rodham Clinton responded today to the critics of her four-year stint as First Lady by drawing on the imagery of strong women from an earlier era who battled withering criticism in their day."

There were initial questions of whether it was even a good idea for Clinton to speak. She was a polarizing figure even then, wielding unprecedented influence in her husband's administration, and was embroiled in the Whitewater controversy.

She spoke about family and children, coming just off the publication of her book, It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us.

"It takes a president who believes not only in the potential of his own child, but of all children; who believes not only in the strength of his own family, but of the American family," the first lady said. "It takes Bill Clinton."

2000, Los Angeles

This was the first time she addressed the DNC as a political candidate, an outgoing first lady running for an open U.S. Senate seat from New York that fall.

She focused much of her speech on extolling the nominee that year, Vice President Al Gore, praising him as "Bill's trusted partner." But she also looked back at her family's last eight years and what the future held:

"Bill and I are closing one chapter of our lives — and soon, we'll be starting a new one. For me, it will be up to the people of New York to decide whether I'll have the privilege of serving them in the United States Senate. I will always be profoundly grateful to all of you and to the American people for the last eight years."

2004, Boston

Four years later, Clinton was the junior senator from New York and already being mentioned as a possible future presidential candidate. Initially, she wasn't supposed to speak on her own, reportedly amid worries she might upstage that year's ticket of John Edwards and John Kerry.

But that quickly changed, and she was given a prominent role introducing her husband.

"Twelve years ago, when our country needed new leadership, Americans selected a Democrat who gave us eight years of peace, prosperity and promise. Tonight, I have the pleasure of introducing the last great Democratic president," she said, before talking about Kerry, who she predicted would be "the next great Democratic president."

She also spoke of how the country had changed since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, telling the crowd, "We meet at a moment of great peril, but also of great promise for the country we love."

Clinton continued, "Together we can once again widen the circle of opportunity for all Americans, we can once again transcend our differences and divisions, we can once again give our children a safer and more secure future."

But at that convention, she was upstaged by a young Senate candidate from Illinois — a foreshadowing of what was to come four years later.

2008, Denver

Clinton was not accepting the Democratic nomination at this convention, as she had hoped to do. Instead, after a bitter primary battle with that young Illinois Senate candidate, she put aside their past differences.

NPR's Mara Liasson reported:

"Hillary Clinton delivered an impassioned plea for party unity in a forceful address to the Democratic National Convention Tuesday night, declaring, 'Barack Obama is my candidate and he must be our president.' "

Clinton said:

"My friends, it is time to take back the country we love. Whether you voted for me, or voted for Barack, the time is now to unite as a single party with a single purpose. We are on the same team, and none of us can sit on the sidelines. This is a fight for the future. And it's a fight we must win."

Clinton didn't speak before the 2012 Democratic convention, because she was on an overseas trip as the secretary of state at the time.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jessica Taylor is a political reporter with NPR based in Washington, DC, covering elections and breaking news out of the White House and Congress. Her reporting can be heard and seen on a variety of NPR platforms, from on air to online. For more than a decade, she has reported on and analyzed House and Senate elections and is a contributing author to the 2020 edition of The Almanac of American Politics and is a senior contributor to The Cook Political Report.