PHILADELPHIA — Hillary Clinton grasped the reins of the Democratic Party as its presidential nominee Thursday night, putting the finishing touches on decade-long quest that’s brought her one election away from becoming the first woman to win the Oval Office.
Declaring the election a “moment of reckoning” for the country, she warned that Republicans are trying to win by frightening voters. And while acknowledging anxiety over an economy that’s left so many behind, she said she will meet it with a more affirming vision for the country.
“We heard Donald Trump’s answer last week at his convention. He wants to divide us from the rest of the world, and from each other,” she said, vowing to meet him with steely, optimistic determination. “We are clear-eyed about what our country is up against. But we are not afraid. We will rise to the challenge, just as we always have. We will not build a wall. Instead, we will build an economy where everyone who wants a good paying job can get one.”
She promised to legalize illegal immigrants, to battle global warming, to push for a minimum wage hike and for new gun controls, to “say no to unfair trade deals,” to make a massive new investment in infrastructure, and to fulfill her pledge for debt-free college.
On the world stage, she vowed to defeat the Islamic State — but warned “it won’t be quick or easy.”
And she repeatedly challenged her opponent’s readiness for the job, saying he “loses his cool at the slightest provocation.”
“Imagine him in the Oval Office facing a real crisis. A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons,” she said.
And after a bitter primary, Mrs. Clinton acknowledged the deep divisions that remain within her own party, where supporters of Sen. Bernard Sanders remain wary of signing up with her.
“I want you to know, I’ve heard you,” Mrs. Clinton told them Thursday, insisting she’ll be true to the liberal platform the Sanders folks pushed. “Your cause is our cause.”
She spoke above a din of constant protests and occasion loud outbursts, and one person near the stage even held a giant red sign at Mrs. Clinton’s eye level challenging her to “Keep your promises.”
She plowed forward undeterred, bolstered by the cheers and “Hillary!” chants of her supporters.
Mrs. Clinton held herself out as the choice of “steady leadership” at a time of international terror, hoping her years of experience on the inside of government count for something in a year when voters appear to have soured on Washington politicians.
“It’s true … I sweat the details of policy — whether we’re talking about the exact level of lead in the drinking water in Flint, Michigan, the number of mental health facilities in Iowa, or the cost of your prescription drugs,” she said. Because it’s not just a detail if it’s your kid — if it’s your family. It’s a big deal. And it should be a big deal to your president, too.”
With her husband looking on from the front row, Mrs. Clinton was introduced by her daughter Chelsea, who sought to humanize a woman voters deeply distrust. The Clinton campaign calls her the “most famous least-known person” in the country.
Chelsea Clinton described her mom as “hilarious” and doting, writing notes for her daughter to open at home whenever the first lady was away on travel. And the daughter said even at the lowest points of political failure on health care in 1994, Mrs. Clinton powered through, taking care of her family and regrouping for new battles.
“That’s who my mom is: a listening and a doer, a woman driven by compassion, by faith, by kindness, a fierce sense of justice and a heart full of love,” Chelsea Clinton said.
Civil rights history
Overshadowing all else was the historic nature of the night, which Democrats celebrated as the shattering of “the ultimate glass ceiling.” Her nomination comes comes nearly a century after women were first guaranteed the right to vote under the U.S. Constitution.
Mrs. Clinton declared it “a milestone in our nation’s march toward a more perfect union.”
Democratic women who blazed the path ahead of Mrs. Clinton said it was well past time.
“Women, put your lipstick on. Men, polish those shoes,” said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, the first Democratic woman elected to the Senate. “We’re ready to fight to put Hillary in the White House because we know she’ll carry the torch for all of us.”
Mrs. Clinton’s focus on gender this year is in stark contrast to the 2008 campaign, when it was less of a focus — in part because she was running in the primary against a black man in then-Sen. Barack Obama.
His election in 2008 was the biggest political barrier to fall over the last decade, but it was not the only one.
A year earlier, Rep. Nancy Pelosi became the first woman to ascend to the speakership of the House — the highest elected constitutional office any woman has held. And the gay rights movement has also made major advances, electing the first openly lesbian senator. Republicans last week hosted an openly gay speaker at their convention, and Democrats countered Thursday with the first transgender speaker in major party history.
Trump is next
Awaiting Mrs. Clinton in November is Mr. Trump, who is making his own bit of history as a non-politician.
He presents a striking contrast in so many ways to Mrs. Clinton.
She was first lady for eight years, shattering the mold of the role, then earned her first elected office as senator from New York based chiefly thanks to her husband’s political network. After eight years in the Senate, and her failed 2008 White House bid, she accepted a job as State Department secretary under Mr. Obama.
Mr. Trump, meanwhile, is a newcomer to running for office — though he’s been a big-dollar donor to both parties, and has himself identified as a Democrat, Republican and independent, and has switched stances on some major issues such as abortion.
In this year’s primaries he demolished the GOP establishment and is in the process of reshaping his adopted party, insisting voters are fed up with career insiders like Mrs. Clinton and are willing to take a chance on a businessman.
Mrs. Clinton drew the contrasts herself on Thursday, saying Mr. Trump in his convention vowed that he alone could fix the country — and saying she rejected that very notion in her book two decades ago, “It takes a village.”
Mr. Trump’s candidacy scares many Democrats, who fear the appeal he’s shown to voters across the political spectrum. Indeed, one of the speakers at Thursday’s convention — a self-described Republican who worked in the Reagan administration — had Democrats cheering his former boss when he said Mr. Trump was “no Ronald Reagan.”
Democrats repeatedly called Mr. Trump a bigot and an egotistical bully, mocked his penchant for flip-flops and verbal absurdities, and said he appealed to the basest of voters’ motives.
Perhaps the most emotional moments of the night was when Khizr Khan, father of Army Capt. Humayun Khan, who lost his life in Iraq in 2004, challenged Mr. Trump on his proposed ban on admitting Muslims to the U.S.
“Have you even read the United States Constitution?” he said. “I will gladly lend you my copy.”
“Imagine Donald Trump’s version of the Constitution,” said former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm. ” ‘I, the person, in order to form a more perfect union…’ “
As Democrats closed out their convention, Mr. Trump said the four-day affair offered voters a “fantasy world” that doesn’t resemble what most Americans see.
“Democrats have been speaking about a world that doesn’t exist. A world where America has full employment, where there’s no such thing as radical Islamic terrorism, where the border is totally secured, and where thousands of innocent Americans have not suffered from rising crime in cities like Baltimore and Chicago,” he said in a statement.
“I propose a different vision for America, one where we can break up Washington’s rigged system, and empower all Americans to achieve their dreams. In our vision, we will put America First,” he said. “If we deliver this change, the future is limitless and we will Make America Great Again for everyone.”
Mr. Trump emerged from his own campaign last week with a surprisingly unified party that’s powered him to a lead in many of the most recent polls.
Instead it’s Mrs. Clinton who still faces dissension within her party’s ranks — chiefly from the supporters of Mr. Sanders, the insurgent candidate who pushed her all the way to the end of the primaries, stunning analysts who’d expected her to romp.
Inside the arena Thursday Sanders delegates wore fluorescent yellow shirts that read “Enough is enough — Bernie Sanders.” And a couple of delegates held Clinton campaign signs that read “fighting for us,” though they crossed out the last word in bold black marker, and wrote in “herself.”
As dozens of generals, admirals and young veterans took to the stage to endorse Mrs. Clinton, followed by an Army captain who received the Medal of Honor, Sanders supporters chanted “No more war” and held up their hands in peace signs. They feel Mrs. Clinton is too adventurous in her foreign policy.
It’s unclear how big the anti-Clinton revolt is, but Mr. Sanders has done his best to plug the gap, giving his full-throated endorsement of Mrs. Clinton in a speech Monday.
• S.A. Miller and Dave Boyer contributed to this article.