Joe Biden is poised to give the most important speech of his five-decade political career, as the former vice-president prepares to accept the Democratic presidential nomination on the final night of his party’s virtual convention.
His address will underscore a remarkable rebound that saw him emerge victorious from a large Democratic primary field to become the challenger to Donald Trump after a disastrous start in Iowa and New Hampshire that almost derailed his campaign.
“There was a moment this year when the press and the pundits counted our campaign out of this race,” Mr Biden said in a message to supporters just hours before taking the stage in Wilmington, Delaware. “But like my father taught me when I was a boy, when life knocks you down, you get up. You keep going and you keep the faith.”
In the run-up to Mr Biden’s speech, convention organisers aired several videos that sought to highlight his political achievements, including his “moonshot” initiative to find a cure for cancer. In a virtual discussion between the former vice-president and unionised workers, he told them: “You guys built America, not Wall Street.”
The Democrats also used the final night to urge Americans to vote in the early-voting window, which has become more important because of the potential impact of the pandemic on in-person voting.
Invoking the memory of John Lewis, the civil rights-era icon who passed away recently, Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms urged Democrats not to be complacent about voting. “If we fail to exercise our right to vote, we can lose it,” she said.
Before Mr Biden spoke, Cory Booker, the New Jersey senator who competed against him in the primary, chaired a conversation with other former rivals, including Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, Minnesota governor Amy Klobuchar, and Beto O’Rourke, the former El Paso lawmaker.
The former opponents ribbed each other while making the case for Joe Biden, in a stark contrast to 2016 when Mr Sanders and many of his voters failed to rally behind Hillary Clinton.
Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former mayor of New York City who made a late but unsuccessful entry into the primary race, also addressed the convention via live video link in a speech that painted a contrast between Mr Trump and Mr Biden.
“One looks forward and sees strength in America’s diversity. The other looks backwards, and sees immigrants as enemies, and white supremacist as allies,” he said. “When confronted with the biggest calamity any president has faced in the modern era, Donald Trump spent the year downplaying the threat, ignoring science and recommending quack cures.”
The Democrats chose Milwaukee, a city in the swing state of Wisconsin, for their national convention, but Mr Biden, 77, will join the event from his home town via video link, like other speakers who have delivered addresses this week.
Still, Democrats have expressed satisfaction with the unconventional event, and activists believe fundraising in the run-up to the convention showed the party base has consolidated around the ticket. Priorities USA, one of several Democratic groups trying to help Mr Biden, on Thursday said it had raised $17.8m in July, which was almost double the amount it raised for Mrs Clinton in the same month four years ago.
Mr Biden’s speech was also preceded by other prominent Democrats who explained why Americans should choose him over Mr Trump.
Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who became the first openly gay presidential contender from a major party, made the case that many on the virtual stage have made: that Mr Biden will rebuild the country by embracing people from all backgrounds and walks of life.
“Every American must now decide. Can America be a place where faith is about healing and not exclusion? Can we become a country that lives up to the truth that black lives matter?” Mr Buttigieg said.
Mr Biden’s most high-profile appearance since March comes as the Trump campaign claims that Mr Biden’s advisers have kept him under lockdown in Delaware because they are worried about his penchant for gaffes.
Mr Trump was campaigning in Pennsylvania on Thursday near Mr Biden’s home town of Scranton, where he accused the Democratic candidate of trying to “destroy the American way of life”.
Earlier in the day, dozens of former Republican national security officials endorsed Mr Biden, including John Negroponte and Richard Armitage, both former deputy secretaries of state, and Chuck Hagel, a retired Nebraska senator and ex-defence secretary.
The group said Mr Trump had disgraced the US and “gravely damaged America’s role as a world leader”. They also rebuked him for his handling of Covid-19, accusing him of spreading misinformation and “wallowing in self pity”.
Mr Biden’s appearance at the convention follows former President Barack Obama, who on Wednesday delivered a ferocious attack on Mr Trump and his administration who he said had “shown it will tear our democracy down if that’s what it takes to win”.
Speaking after Mr Obama on Wednesday, Kamala Harris, the California senator and former state attorney-general who is Mr Biden’s running mate, made the case against Mr Trump over everything from his handling of the pandemic to his inflammatory rhetoric.
In language that was clearly directed at Mr Trump without mentioning him by name, she said: “There is no vaccine for racism.”
The Democratic convention, and the Republican convention next week, mark the start of the final two-month stretch of a race that has been upended by a pandemic that has made it almost impossible to campaign in person.
While Mr Trump has panned Mr Biden, who he mocks as “Sleepy Joe” for refusing to travel far from home, he has also been unable to hold the huge rallies that generated excitement for his own 2016 campaign.
As the two candidates prepare to battle ahead of the November 3 election, Mr Biden has a strong lead. He enjoys an 8.4 point advantage in national polls, and the edge in almost every swing state. Mr Biden has also seen a turn in his fundraising fortunes after a poor start.
Follow Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter: @dimi