Hillary Clinton capped a historic night after becoming the first woman to lead a major party into a US presidential election with a surprise appearance at the Democratic national convention.
“I can’t believe we just put the biggest crack in that glass ceiling yet,” the party’s newly-crowned nominee told ecstatic supporters after emerging on the giant TV screen in Philadelphia from a composite visual image of every previous US president that smashed to the sound of shattered glass.
It was a moment of spectacular political theatre at the conclusion of a ground-breaking day for the second-time presidential candidate looking to make more history in the November 8th election.
Addressing a packed sports arena, Mrs Clinton in brief, unannounced remarks, told Democrats of the “incredible honour that you have given me” in nominating her to stand in White House election against the Republican nominee, New York businessman Donald Trump.
“This is really your victory,” she told her supporters. “This is really your night.”
Mrs Clinton used the milestone moment in American political life to speak directly to one particular audience on the second night of the convention before she accepts the Democratic nomination in a speech on Thursday, the headline moment of the four-day event.
“If there are any little girls out there who stayed up late to watch, let met just say: I might become the first woman president, but one of you is next,” she said. Her remarks left some female delegates in the Wells Fargo Centre in tears at the end of an emotional day for her supporters.
As the camera zoomed out, an elated Mrs Clinton could be seen standing by a young girl, both wearing matching red clothes and surrounded by supporters in New York.
The former US secretary of state appeared shortly after her husband Bill Clinton, in his new role as political spouse, offering a personal testimonial of his wife’s fitness to serve as the next president.
Taking on the blistering Republican offensive against his wife at their convention last week, the 42nd president described his wife as the “real change maker” running in this presidential.
“For this time, Hillary is uniquely qualified to seize the opportunities and reduce the risk we face, and she is still the best darn change-maker I have ever known,” said Mr Clinton.
His address rounded off a day of speeches and appearances by celebrities such as actors Lena Dunham, America Fererra and Elizabeth Banks that were designed to reassure sceptical voters that the 68-year-old politician is the most qualified of the two candidates for the Oval Office.
Mr Clinton painted the most intimate portrait of his wife on a heavy schedule of speeches, beginning his address: “In the spring of 1971, I met a girl.”
His speech was largely a condensed biography of her life at home and in the public eye, hitting on her most significant moments: her time as Arkansas first lady, as a senator for New York and as secretary of state in president Barack Obama’s first cabinet.
“She’ll never quit on you,” he told her supporters.
Mr Clinton’s folksy, sentimental but at times wonkish speech – detailing their early years together, their family life and his wife’s four-decade record of public service – was designed to cast the Democratic presidential nominee in a more personable, appealing light.
Drawing on the campaign stump speech he has delivered since the start of the year, Mr Clinton tried to counter the candidate’s high negative rating and the perception that she is dishonest and untrustworthy with a “woman-I-know” speech from her closest character witness.
“If you were sitting where I’m sitting and you heard what I have heard at every dinner conversation, every lunch conversation, on every long walk, you would say, ‘this woman has never been satisfied with the status quo in anything,’” he said, rejecting the perception that she is a product of the political establishment. “She always wants to move the ball forward – that is just who she is.”
Without ever uttering the name of his wife’s rival Donald Trump, Mr Clinton fired salvos at the Republicans for trying to sketch his wife as an ugly caricature at their convention last week.
“What’s the difference in what I told you and what they said?” he asked. “One is real and the other is made up. . . you just have to decide which is which, my fellow Americans.”
He offered a severe critique of Republican policies, their approach to the election campaign and their campaign attacks on his wife.
“If you win elections on the theory that government is always bad and will mess up a two-car parade, a real change maker represents a real threat,” he said.
“So your only option is to create a cartoon, a cartoon alternative, then run against the cartoon.”
The appearance of the Clintons on stage and screen was preceded hours earlier by moments of high drama when Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, Mrs Clinton’s one-time bitter rival and vanquished opponent in a bruising Democratic primary, moved to nominate Mrs Clinton.
In a symbolic gesture intended to unite the party after two fractious days of internecine tensions, Mr Sanders stood with the delegation from his home state and announced: “I move that Hillary Clinton be selected as the nominee of the Democratic Party for the presidency of the United States. ”
Explosion of noise
The arena erupted in an explosion of noise as the words “2016 Democratic nominee” flashed up on the arena’s big screen and the convention chairwoman Marcia Fudge declared that the Vermont senator had “moved in the spirit of unity” to hold an acclamation vote. Screams of “aye” echoed throughout the Wells Fargo Centre, drowning out a small group of “nays.”
The party ran the nominating process through a state-by-state roll-call vote that allowed the Sanders delegates to cast their final votes for him marking a last, dignified hurrah for his energised supporters that allowed them to celebrate very publicly an extraordinary campaign.
The votes were arranged to allow Vermont to go last, building a dramatic crescendo to Mr Sanders’s announcement that his erstwhile opponent was the Democratic nominee.
While Mrs Clinton’s supporters cheered the historic naming of a female presidential nominee from a major party – the first in the 240-year history of the US – frustrated Sanders delegates packed up and headed for the exits. A large group walked into the media tent beside the arena to protest.
Some held “Bernie or Bust” signs; others wore tape across their mouths in protest. A line of polices officers kept their distance as the peaceful demonstrators were surrounded by reporters.
“I feel unwelcome to this party. I just joined it,” said Mexican-American Noemi Tungui (23), from Los Angeles, a delegate for Mr Sanders and first-time voter who travelled to different states signing up 1,000 students to his campaign.
“I feel very disillusioned,” she said. “I feel that Hillary did not earn my vote and I will not vote for her when it comes to November. I feel that the Democratic Party rigged this election.”
Inside the arena, the atmosphere was different, celebratory and joyous.
She recalled as a young woman not being able to sign a lease in her own name and being passed for a university job when a faculty member told her that a fellowship would have to go to a male colleague “because men needed the money more”.
“We are 52 per cent of the population – it is time. I am so thrilled,” she told The Irish Times, wearing one of Mrs Clinton’s Wisconsin campaign stickers and various Hillary badges.
“I am very happy I cast my vote for the first woman nominee and I am going to be even happier to cast my vote for the first woman president.”