by Matthew Rusling
WASHINGTON, July 28 (Xinhua) -- As a political figure around for three decades, U.S. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton will face a tough challenge to show Americans that she's an agent of change in Thursday night's acceptance speech, amid a lackluster economy and a sense that the U.S. is losing ground abroad.
Clinton's speech at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) comes at a time when the former U.S. secretary of state is running neck-in-neck in the polls against her Republican rival Donald Trump, who is ahead by a hair.
"The most important thing Clinton needs to do in her speech is to explain how she is a change agent," Darrell West, vice president and director of governance studies of the Brookings Institution, told Xinhua.
Trump has tried to position Clinton as the candidate of the status quo and she has to dispel that view and show how she can implement serious changes in public policy, West said.
In recent remarks, Trump referred to Clinton as old hat and someone incapable of turning around the nation's flaccid economy.
"If she can do that, she will be in good position for the fall campaign," West said.
Clinton will need to convince a number of different groups of her capabilities to preside over the world's No.1 economy.
"Democrats want to know that she takes their issues seriously. This includes addressing income inequality, climate change, and Wall Street regulation. They want to know that she shares their basic values and knows how to improve economic mobility in the United States," West said.
For their part, independents want reassurance that Clinton is honest and trustworthy, at a time when Clinton - with a history of shady dealings - is dogged by more than one scandal.
West said Trump has effectively painted her as "corrupt Hillary," and this has hurt her standing with independents. The former first lady needs to let them know she understands their concerns and that she is worthy of their vote.
Julian Zelizer, professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, said blacks, Latinos, single women and independents all want to hear different things.
"Independents want to hear that she did not take away from the primaries to move too far to the left, though she is aware that the political system needs to be reformed," he said.
African Americans will want to hear about police reform at a time when tensions between blacks and police are at a high point, and just after a few incidents in which black men were killed by police in high profile cases that fueled anger among African Americans nationwide.
"African Americans, single women and Latinos want to hear she understands the urgency of fighting for policies ranging from police reform to immigration reform and that she won't compromise away those goals from day one," Zelizer said.
Dan Mahaffee, an analyst with the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, said much of Clinton's speech will likely focus on the themes she's discussed already about having an experienced, steady hand as leader; that her election represents a historic step for the U.S. with her as the first female president; and that she can represent an America that is moving forward, rather than clinging to a vision of how the past was better.
Democrats want to hear how she will continue to push forward on the progressive agenda of U.S. President Barack Obama and how she can continue to build on his legacy in a wide range of areas.
There will likely be criticism of the Republican Congress, at a time of ongoing bitter partisan divide, and there will be little said about reaching across the aisle, Mahaffee said.
"For Clinton, this is an opportunity to build on the themes of hope and optimism that have resounded through the past days of the convention, and to contrast with the doom and gloom being espoused by Trump," he said.
While both Clinton and Trump have similar unfavorable ratings, this is an opportunity for Clinton to build on that contrast between her vision and Trump's, he said.
Additionally, while the convention has built enthusiasm among the Democratic base, her speech presents an opportunity to reach out to independents and moderate Republicans who are increasingly concerned about the prospect of a Trump White House, Mahaffee said.
Indeed, while Trump has galvanized blue collar white males - a large group that is increasingly struggling to make ends meet - many others in the party have expressed concern over what they view as a hot-headed and unpredictable candidate.
West said Clinton's speech Thursday night is important because it will lay the groundwork for the fall campaign.
"Early impressions matter and she needs to give voters a better sense of who she is and what she plans to do as president," West said.