For Gore, who told reporters this week he wrote his acceptance speech himself, it came down to how he appeared on the podium Thursday night.
And he was fired up. Wearing a blue suit and maroon tie, looking awake and animated, Gore wowed the Democratic delegates at the Staples Center with a 50-minute address, which wove his own life's history with a laundry list of policy proposals.
Saying "We've got to win this election," Gore hoped to convince voters that the last eight years of economic good times did not materialize by accident; that the Clinton-Gore administration was behind it.
Gore's main thrust, on the personal level, was to show himself to be a man of integrity, and to give his audience his own version of his life's events.
On the subject of the Vietnam War, for example, Gore told listeners of his "conversations with Tipper" about the war 30 years ago. It was a subtle reminder that, even back then, he was listening to women, treating them as equal partners rather than patronizing them.
Gore did not take credit for being a war hero, but expressed a self-deprecating pride at his years writing for a military newspaper during the war.
"I enlisted in the Army because I knew that, if I didn't go someone else would have to take my place," he said. Be ready for plenty more Vietnam references during the campaign, as this is an area where Gore has a tactical advantage over rival George W. Bush.
In another veiled dig at his opponent and his proposed $1 billion tax cut, Gore told the cheering crowd, "Sometimes as president you have to pick the hard right over the easy wrong."
Gore's speech was interrupted by several times by the cheering crowd, which was eager to show its support.
One difficulty Gore had at the outset was that, in his seeming desire to get started, he cut off the crowd after about three minutes of applause. President Clinton, by contrast, basked in five minutes of audience adulation Monday night.
And at another point, Gore seemed to say something that baffled the delegates. After a rousing passage on the environment, in which he promised safe drinking water for every child, Gore also said he would continue the fight against global warming. If the concept of global warming is untenable to many Americans, the concept of "fighting" global warming is even more obtuse. And the crowd grew quiet.
But Gore moved off the subject immediately, and began the policy part of his speech. He hit high points - and promised big things - in the areas of Social Security and Medicare, education, health care, gun control, abortion, civil rights, the environment and tax code reform.
"If you entrust me with the presidency, I will puthis democracy back in your hands I promise you that campaign finance reform will be the very first bill the Joe Lieberman and I send to the United States Congress," Gore said.
The speech was full of other big promises. Gore vowed to "move toward universal health coverage," starting with America's children. And he vowed to cut the crime rate every year for the entire decade, to hire 50,000 police officers, to pass a victims' bill of rights and to foster community policing.
After rolling out a slew of new policy proposals, Gore said, "That's where I stand."
He then went on to praise his mother and father, Pauline and Sen. Albert Gore, Sr.
One name that only got a short mention in the speech was Gore's current boss, President Clinton. At the outset, Gore mentioned the president, saying he did a great job on the economy - and the crowd responded with the requisite standing ovation. But Gore quickly moved on, trying to seize the limelight and momentum on his own.
Unlike the GOP convention in Philadelphia two weeks ago, the Democrats have had to battle for space on the front pages. There has actually been other news this week. They're trying to pull a submarine out of the Barents Sea, and the Independent Counsel's office is trying to revive the Lewinsky scandal.
But with his upbeat, rousing speech Thursday night, Gore seems not to have been distracted.