On an historic night in the Mile High City, accepted the Democratic presidential nomination with a speech that proved he still has at least one foot planted firmly on the ground.
Expectations in recent days for a theatrical production staged in a football arena with 84,000 people in attendance reached heights that not even the Colorado altitude could match. Conscious of the spectacle - and of the seemingly effective Republican attacks portraying Obama as nothing more than a celebrity - the presidential candidate brought the night back down to ground level in a direct attempt to connect with the concerns of everyday Americans.
A candidate known -- fairly or not - for his soaring rhetoric delivered a speech heavy on specific policy points, themes of broad values, and empathy for the daily challenges faced by many.
"Tonight, more Americans are out of work and more are working harder for less," Obama said near the top of his remarks. "More of you have lost your homes and even more are watching your home values plummet. More of you have cars you can't afford to drive, credit card bills you can't afford to pay, and tuition that's beyond your reach."
The Democratic convention was designed to introduce voters to a candidate many remain unsure of; to create a stark contrast with; to heal divisions within his own party; and to convince a bulk of undecided or wavering voters that his concerns are no different from theirs. With his speech tonight, Obama succeeded in wrapping all those goals up in a neat and effective package.
It wasn't an easy task, coming from a man speaking on a raised platform among a sea of adoring delegates. Such atmospherics are something that many political analysts and even some Democrats have pointed to as a reason for Obama's inability to open up a bigger lead in a race that should be his to lose. Too many large rallies, too much vague talk about transcendent appeal and not enough attention paid to the real issues impacting real lives left him open to those GOP charges.
Despite marking the 45th anniversary of the march on Washington and Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech, and despite standing on a stage flanked with Roman columns, Obama brought down his candidacy down to ground level.
Mixing criticism of McCain with his own specific proposals, the speech was much more like something you would hear at most any campaign stop and less like what you would encounter in a history book.
"I don't believe that Senator McCain doesn't care what's going on in the lives of Americans," Obama said of his opponent. "I just think he doesn't know. … John McCain doesn't get it."
Obama used personal stories collected on the campaign trail and during his work as a community organizer to connect and to come down from the mountaintop that Republicans, and sometimes the candidate himself, have put him on.
This, after all, is the candidate who announced his candidacy on the steps of the Old State House in Springfield, Illinois, site of Abraham Lincoln's "House Divided" speech. Obama's is the campaign which has systematically sought to tie itself to images and echoes of history, from John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan.
Unlike any candidate in modern history, Obama has created his own mythos, wrapped up in the greatest and most shining examples from the nation's past. He can hardly wonder why he has been called arrogant and equated with celebrities when his campaign orchestrated a Berlin speech in front of 200,000, in the shadow of the Brandenburg Gate.
Obama sought to dispel the notion, however, saying, "I stand before you tonight because all across America something is stirring. What the nay-sayers don't understand is that this election has never been about me. It's been about you."
And tonight, Obama shed those ethereal connections for policy and down to earth political pronouncements. Talking about health care, education, taxes, energy and parental responsibility, among other topics, the candidate hit on the topics voters say they are most concerned about. And when it came time to respond to the charge that he's not prepared to be commander in chief, Obama issued a familiar, if yet unfulfilled, challenge.
"If John McCain wants to have a debate about who has the temperament, and judgment, to serve as the next Commander-in-Chief, that's a debate I'm ready to have," he said.
There was plenty in the speech for Republicans to pick apart at their convention in St. Paul next week, like how he will pay for the litany of proposals he laid out tonight. But they will be hard-pressed to match the intensity, the specificity and the effectiveness of Obama in Denver.