Hillary Clinton's challenge: Create contrast with Trump and earn voter respect
Hillary Clinton made history by becoming the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major US political party, securing the backing of Democrats at a rowdy convention in Philadelphia (AFP Photo/Timothy A. Clary)

Hillary Clinton brings her decades-long, pluralistic mission to improve America to millions of voters Thursday with a highly anticipated speech as she accepts the Democratic presidential nomination, offering an optimistic vision that rejects rival Donald Trump's fear-mongering.

It is the center-stage opportunity she came so close to seizing eight years ago during her first White House campaign, only to be defeated in her party's primary race by Barack Obama.

Now at the zenith of her political power, the woman who has made history as the first female presidential nominee of a major US party will be delivering the speech of her life.

Rather than reinvent herself before an American public that has followed every Clintonian turn of the past quarter century, the former secretary of state and one-time first lady must convince voters that she is worthy of the world's biggest job.

But Clinton faces a major trust deficit with the American people. Rocked by an email scandal that refuses to die, she is now about as unpopular with voters as Trump.

And while Trump casts himself as an outsider, a political neophyte committed to upending the Washington establishment, Clinton faces the difficult task of appearing as the steady hand at the tiller even while promising to be a catalyst for change in America.

Clinton, 68, enjoyed a stream of unrestrained praise Wednesday from the stars of the Democratic firmament, with her running mate Tim Kaine, Vice President Joe Biden, independent former mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg and others hailing her as uniquely qualified for the Oval Office.

Her chief rival in the bruising Democratic primary battle, Senator Bernie Sanders, called on his supporters this week to line up behind Clinton, aiming to draw a line under protests by "Bernie or bust" Democrats who remain angry over her victory.

- 'Demagogue' -

Even Trump did his part, albeit inadvertently, with his urging of Russia to hack Clinton's emails landing like an unexpected gift in her lap.

Trump's widely rebuked call for espionage against the United States made several Republicans cringe, while Clinton's campaign blasted it as "very troubling" and "unprecedented in the history of American politics."

Clinton's backers unleashed a litany of criticism.

Kaine blasted Trump as "a slick-talking, empty-promising, self-promoting, one-man wrecking crew."

Bloomberg bluntly called him a "demagogue" and business huckster. "I'm a New Yorker, and I know a con when I see one."

But the most rousing Clinton sales pitch of all came from President Obama himself.

"I can say with confidence there has never been a man or a woman -- not me, not Bill (Clinton), nobody -- more qualified than Hillary Clinton to serve as president of the United States of America," Obama thundered before a cheering crowd.

"No matter how daunting the odds, no matter how much people try to knock her down, she never, ever quits."

- Pitch to middle America -

On Thursday Clinton will have to make the case herself.

And while she must play to the party's base -- and seek to soothe bruised Sanders supporters -- her mission in part will be to appeal to crossover voters and independents wary of the prospect of a Trump presidency.

"We do know that there's a slice, however narrow, of those persuadable voters that are still making up their minds," Clinton press secretary Brian Fallon told reporters in Philadelphia as he previewed her remarks.

"And we feel confident that by the end of this week, we'll have done a good job of laying the foundation of what the contrast is between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump."

Clinton has never been as telegenic and personable a politician as her husband or Obama, whose powers of communication were on colorful and persuasive display Tuesday and Wednesday.

She will balance her policy strengths with connecting with Americans watching from their living rooms as she faces a nation divided by intense Trump rhetoric, spikes in race-related gun violence, and heightened fear brought about by upticks in terrorist attacks around the world.

The series of speeches uplifting Clinton was strong optics for the Democrats as they present her as uniquely fit be commander in chief. But Trump's campaign said the surrogates offered "no solutions" to the problems facing people in middle America.

"Never has a party been so disconnected from what is happening in our world," said Trump senior policy advisor Stephen Miller.

Clinton on Thursday will be joined by her daughter Chelsea, who takes the stage before her mother to deliver what will be perhaps her most high-profile speech.

On Friday, Clinton and Kaine hit the road on a three-day Rust Belt bus tour through parts of swing states Pennsylvania and Ohio, where they will make their pitch in person to voters.