CHICAGO — The “Obama Revolution” has transformed presidential politics and injected into campaigning a level of popular enthusiasm not seen in decades.
But can the man who sparked the revolution translate the support of tens of thousands who will gather to hear him accept the Democratic presidential nomination on Thursday into tens of millions of votes that will deliver the White House to his party in November?
Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois commanded the nation’s attention four years ago when the upstart politician, then a 43-year-old state senator, delivered the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention.
“Tonight is a particular honor for me because, let’s face it, my presence on this stage is pretty unlikely,” he told the delegates in Boston, many of whom were surprised by the newcomer’s passion and potential.
He could just as easily utter those same words in Denver as he formally accepts the party’s nomination in the 75,000-seat Invesco Field, where the Denver Broncos play and he starts the three-month-sprint to become the nation’s first black president.
Throughout his presidential campaign, Mr. Obama has marveled aloud to voters at his “unlikely” journey, which culminates as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton steps aside on Tuesday and he becomes the party’s official standard-bearer.
Now, as his convention marks the arrival of a new generation of Democrats, questions remain about whether the revolution can deliver a victory.
The Democrat won over many voters over the past year using his oratorical skills. Hip-hop star Will.i.am even won a Grammy with a song crafted from Mr. Obama’s New Hampshire concession speech, a song that was viewed more than 25 million times on the Internet.
The 2004 keynote speech was the one that introduced Mr. Obama to the nation, but he has long recognized his ability to move a crowd.
Mr. Obama first tested his speaking skills as a sophomore at Occidental College in Southern California, joining friends who were organizing a student campaign urging the university to divest from the apartheid regime in South Africa.
He realized his words could mean more than ordinary speeches.
“‘If I could just find the right words,’ I had thought to myself. With the right words, everything could change - South Africa, the lives of ghetto kids just a few miles away, my own tenuous place in the world,” he wrote in his autobiography, “Dreams From My Father.”
The setup for the speech was that he would make some opening remarks and a few white students would come onstage “to drag me away” in “a bit of street theater, a way to dramatize the situation for activists in South Africa,” he wrote.
A few hundred gathered, but few noticed his opening line: “There’s a struggle going on.”