Obama has to make the speech of his life on Thursday, and given his oratorical track record that's quite a challenge. Will he be able to hit the rhetorical heights of his 2004 convention speech?
The Democratic race was at a particularly delicate stage when Obama took to the stage in Des Moines that night, after all the other candidates had made their speeches. The month before, Hillary Clinton had fluffed a question about drivers' licences in a debate, coming off as shifty and evasive. Suddenly her dominance of the contest looked vulnerable, for the first time. But the question was, did Obama have what it took to be a credible alternative champion for the Democrats? Was he tough enough to take her down? After Jefferson-Jackson those questions were no longer in doubt.
In 2004 Obama dazzled the hall and the nation with his Big Talk of Hope and Change. At the J-J dinner he mixed this Big Talk with Tough Talk. Without mentioning Clinton by name he tore into her candidacy for representing "old-style politics" and "textbook Washington campaigning", linking her style of politics to George Bush and Karl Rove. When he hit the big lines of the night - like "Change we can believe in" - they felt earned, argued for, and urgent.
That's what he'll be aiming for at Invesco Field on Thursday. He must avoid at all costs the impression that this speech is all flowery words and no substance. That's the charge the Republicans will make the next day, no matter what. But if he follow the J-J model, mixes inspiration with a muscular critique of of his opponent's agenda, and makes all the talk of Change seem tangible and grounded - then it won't matter what they say.