Barack Obama takes the stage tonight before a crowd of 75,000 to formally accept the Democratic Party's nomination for the presidency of the United States, a moment fraught with expectations and history.
Behind Obama will be a backdrop of pillars meant to evoke the Lincoln Memorial, where Dr. King gave his legendary "I Have a Dream" address on the same date 45 years ago. Or perhaps it's mean to remind us of ancient Greece, the birthplace of democracy. It could be that Obama imagines himself a modern-day Caesar. Or maybe it is simply the "Temple of Obama," as the McCain camp has dubbed it, a place of worship constructed to honor the cult of personality that surrounds the junior senator from Illinois.
Rep. John Lewis, who bore witness to King's dream thought the day would would never come: a black man winning the nomination of a major political party.
"We've had disappointments since then, but if someone told me I would be here," Mr. Lewis told the New York Times. "When people say nothing has changed, I feel like saying, 'Come walk in my shoes.'"
The specter of John F. Kennedy looms over the evening, as well. Obama's choice of venue -- Invesco Field, home of the Denver Broncos -- echoes JFK's own "New Frontier" acceptance address at the1960 DNC, given in front of 50,000 to 80,000 people at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Then, as now, the outdoor venue was a controversial choice.
Obama was thrust into the national spotlight in 2004, when he made the keynote address at that year's DNC. In it he framed his life story as a singularly blue collar, boot straps American story. Tonight he must do that all over again, while laying out his vision for the future of America and overcoming accusations of elitism and inexperience, and persistent doubts about his faith and allegiances.
"I'm not aiming for a lot of high rhetoric," Obama said Wednesday. "I am much more concerned with communicating how I intend to help middle-class families live their lives."
Yet even some in his own party worry that the venue runs counter to Obama's aims.
"There's a concern in the campaign about how do you pull this off in a way that makes it about the economic themes they want to hit," said Dee Dee Myers, a former press secretary to President Clinton. "He needs to get from the stadium to the diner, and it’s a hard thing to pull off."
Bill Clinton last night allayed the fears of many and gave an unmistakably forceful endorsement of the man who had thwarted his own wife's presidential aspirations. Despite Clinton's declaration that "Barack Obama is ready to be the next president of the United States," many Democrats doubt it's going to happen.
"I don't think he's going to win," Sandy Cleary, an Ohio delegate and Hillary Clinton supporter, told the Chicago Tribune.
Tonight is likely Barack Obama's last best chance to convince the large swath of the electorate that remains undecided that he's the man to lead the nation out of the war and the economic doldrums that have plagued the country for more than five years.