Hillary Clinton's final set piece: A rally in Philadelphia with the Obamas and Bruce Springsteen

The Democratic Party's past, present and potential future shared a stage in Philadelphia on the eve of an election they hope will elevate the first woman to the presidency.

Chelsea Clinton began by ushering to the microphone former President Bill Clinton, the charismatic political natural who broke years of Republican dominance in the White House in 1992.

Next up was First Lady Michelle Obama and then President Obama, the country’s first black president nearing the end of his eight-year tenure.

And finally Obama introduced Hillary Clinton, the candidate herself, someone he said would “finish the job” they started in Washington.

Clinton ascended the stage and embraced Obama, who bent down to adjust a stool as she stepped to the podium.

The message wasn’t subtle as tens of thousands of people packed Independence Mall under a crisp night sky.

Clinton was standing on the leading edge of a political trajectory stretching back 24 years, one that could continue another four or even eight years if she wins on Tuesday.

But if she fell short to Donald Trump, their momentum would grind to a halt. 

“I am not going to let anyone rip away the progress we’ve made and turn the clock back, sending us back in time,” Clinton pledged.

In a campaign where Trump has promised a clean break from a corrupt establishment, it was a striking display of continuity.

Princeton University historian Julian Zelizer said it was a display of political firepower unlike any other. "I can't think of anything comparable," he said.

The strategy doesn’t come without some risk. All the reminders of Washington could hit the wrong note in a year overflowing with political anger, Republican pollster Neil Newhouse said.

“It does make you wonder if they’re a little tone-deaf,” he said.

But Democrats are banking that voters are more interested in maintaining course rather than gambling on Trump. And Obama’s approval rating has soared to 56% this year.

“Hillary Clinton is the best candidate to build on the progress we’ve made,” said Brian Fallon, a campaign spokesman. “Voters understand the high stakes in terms of everything that’s on the line.”

The presence of both Obamas and Clintons smooths out a relay race between the Democratic Party’s two power couples that could have been derailed when Obama took office in 2008.

But after he beat Hillary Clinton for the nomination that year by painting her as a relic of the past, he brought her back into the fold by appointing her as secretary of State, and he’s campaigned for her ferociously this year.

Michelle Obama also launched herself into the effort, telling the crowd Monday that “speaking here tonight is perhaps the last and most important thing I can do for our country as first lady.”

“We need to do everything we can to get her elected president of the United States,” she said.

“It’s like any family,” said Russell Riley, a University of Virginia professor and author of “Inside the Clinton Presidency: An Oral History.” “It’s possible within the family to know that there are squabbles. But by golly, if there’s an attack on the family from the outside, everybody rallies around.”

The Philadelphia event was another chance for Clinton to unleash some of the celebrity star power her campaign has enjoyed in the closing stretch: Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi both performed.

And she needs supporters’ excitement at a fever pitch here. Unlike other battlegrounds like Ohio and Florida, almost all Pennsylvania ballots are cast on election day, and Clinton is counting on the state to be a crucial firewall against Trump.

 “Let us show tomorrow that there will be no question as to the outcome of this election,” she said. 

chris.megerian@latimes.com

Twitter: @chrismegerian

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UPDATES:

7:50 p.m.: The story was updated throughout with details of the rally.

The story was originally published at 12:55 p.m.

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