Oprah in talks to play larger role in Obama campaign

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Hat Tip: by Matthew Mosk, Washington Post

The Oprah-Obama ’08 bumper sticker was meant to be only a lark, hawked on the Internet for $3.99 under the catchphrase “Just when you thought there was no hope for the Democratic Party . . .”

Turns out the sentiment, at least, may not be entirely fanciful.

Oprah Winfrey, the nation’s wealthiest African American and host of an afternoon television program, endorsed Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) in May. Now, she is in discussions with his advisers about playing a broader role in the campaign — possibly as a surrogate on the stump or an outspoken advocate — or simply bringing her branding magic to benefit his White House bid.

On Saturday, Winfrey will host her first-ever presidential fundraising affair on the grounds of the Promised Land, her 42-acre ocean- and mountain-view estate in Montecito, Calif. — an event that is expected to raise more than $3 million for Obama’s campaign.

Although no guests will be permitted to enter Winfrey’s house, a few dozen VIPs will have special access to Winfrey.

The fundraiser may be only the start. The Winfrey and Obama machines have maintained silence on the exact nature of their talks over what her role will be, but the idea of her appearing in television ads and other appeals is very much in play. She offered during a recent interview with CNN‘s Larry King: “My money isn’t going to make any difference. My value to him — my support of him — is probably worth more than any other check that I could write.”

Winfrey met Obama and his wife, Michelle, on the Chicago social circuit before his 2004 Senate bid, and they have remained friendly since. It was two years ago, when the Obamas attended the white-tie Legends Ball at Winfrey’s Montecito home, that Winfrey first broached the idea of doing something she had never done before — hosting a political event.

“I was saying wouldn’t this be a great place for a fundraising,” Winfrey recalled in an interview rebroadcast on her Web site. “I said it jokingly.”

Since then, Winfrey has had the Obamas as guests on her television show, featured them in her magazine and gushed about the senator’s potential to change American politics in repeated public appearances.

“For me, this was the moment to step up,” she said in a recent radio chat with friend Gayle King.

Historically, there’s little evidence that celebrity endorsements have done much to draw voters to political candidates. In fact, there is some consensus among political strategists that while mega-stars might generate an occasional burst of media attention, they are often not worth the downside that a close association with Hollywood can create.

But several political analysts pondered the impact of a full-court press by Winfrey and said they believe her involvement could be different.

“When you think about Oprah’s success in selling books, you can’t laugh off the fact that she can sway many, many people,” said Donna Brazile, who managed Al Gore‘s 2000 campaign. “She has a very large following — and we’re talking about people who hang on her every word.”

Among the weapons in Winfrey’s arsenal: the television program that reaches 8.4 million viewers each weekday afternoon, according to the most recent Nielsen numbers. Her Web site reaches 2.3 unique viewers each month, “O, the Oprah Magazine,” has a circulation of 2 million, she circulates a weekly newsletter to 420,000 fans and 360,000 people have subscribed to her Web site for daily “Oprah Alerts” by e-mail.

More than that, though, the Nielsen tracking data show that her most loyal viewers are women between 25 and 55 — a group that also votes in large numbers in Democratic primaries. National Election Pool exit polling from 2004 showed that women older than 45 represented a third of the electorate in the Democratic primary contests in New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina.

How powerful can an association with Winfrey be? On Sept. 19, 2000, George W. Bush trailed Gore in the Gallup-CNN-USA Today poll by 10 percentage points, and struggled particularly with women voters. Then he sat down on Winfrey’s couch. They talked about his decision to quit drinking, his love for his wife and daughters, his religious faith and the legacy of being a president’s son.

The following week, the same poll showed Bush with a two-point advantage — a statistical tie. News reports called it the “Oprah bounce.”

Winfrey said in an audio Web chat last week that, this year, the Obamas will be her only political guests.

“It would be really disingenuous of me to be sitting up there interviewing other people . . . pretending to be objective,” she said.

Winfrey’s show is not subject to any “equal time” obligations, because Federal Communications Commission rules do not apply to news programs, interview shows and documentaries in which the candidate is not the sole focus.

Obama’s chief rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), will not be completely deprived of a daytime audience packed with potential women voters. She landed a slot on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” yesterday and will likely be back.

On Tuesday, former president Bill Clinton made an appearance on Oprah. But the talk show host made clear that Clinton had solicited the appearance himself, and they did not dwell long on politics, instead talking about his new book “Giving” and his global good works.

He said his wife had pointed out that she is 15 years older now during her campaign than he was when he ran. “I said, ‘Well, nobody made you run, girl,’ ” Clinton said.

Oprah asked him what his title would be if his wife were to win.

“I don’t know — my Scottish friends say I should be called ‘First Laddie,’ ” Clinton said. “It’s the closest thing to ‘First Lady.’ ” He added: “I’m not so worried about what I’m called as what I’m called upon to do.”

The possibilities of Winfrey’s fledgling partnership with Obama are immense but uncertain, said Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of African American studies at Duke University. They really raise a single, pivotal question: Can Winfrey do for a political candidate what she did for books?

What Winfrey did for books is the stuff of marketing legend.

Between 1996 to 2002, titles recommended by “Oprah’s Book Club” typically resulted in sales of more than a million copies, a staggering number considering that a typical novel might be judged a success with 20,000 sales. Winfrey disbanded the club in 2002, though she later reinstated it, drawing her loyalists to classic titles.

Susan Harrow, author of a book that advises commercial and charitable groups on how to land appearances on Winfrey’s show, said she is convinced a Winfrey pitch will work on voters.

The reason, she said, is that her viewers are more than just a television audience. “They are followers.”

“People trust her opinion, I think, even more than they trust their own,” Harrow said.

Neal isn’t as certain.

“She can deliver a constituency to the marketplace, no question,” Neal said. “People feel very differently about spending their money than they do about casting a vote.”

But the sway over people’s money, at least, will be evident as cars snake up Pacific Coast Highway into Montecito, and vans shuttled the well-heeled donors from parking facilities to Winfrey’s compound Saturday.

If it wasn’t clear to her loyalists how big a step it was for her to offer up this mansion for a fundraiser, she hammered that point in her chat with King.

“To offer it, you’re right,” Winfrey said, “it’s no small thing for me. . . . I’m really not a political person. I believe that he offers a fresh opportunity of hope for America. So that’s why I’m in it. I probably won’t ever be in it again.”

Juanita Bynum speaks out

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Video courtesy of Hello Negro

Hat Tip: by D. Aileen Dodd, Atlanta Journal Constitution 

She aired her dirty laundry on a national stage, first as a victim of divorce and dead-end affairs and now as a victim of domestic violence.

National Pentecostal evangelist Juanita Bynum, 48, went public with her pain Tuesday, sharing yet another chapter in her tumultuous life story.

The tough-talking pastor, who has survived a divorce, a nervous breakdown and life on welfare, broke her silence two weeks after her second husband, Bishop Thomas W. Weeks III, allegedly beat, stomped and choked her in a hotel parking lot.

In a room with flashing cameras, Bynum said she has forgiven Weeks for the alleged attack and that her ministry will take a new twist because of the pain she has suffered.

“Today, domestic violence has a face and a name and it is Juanita Bynum,” said the pastor.

Weeks, 40, is facing charges of felony aggravated assault, felony terroristic threats and two misdemeanor counts of simple battery in connection with the Aug. 21 incident. The charges against him carry a maximum possible sentence of 27 years.

The bishop, who moved to metro Atlanta in 2006 to launch Global Destiny Church with Bynum, told his congregation that the devil made him attack his wife. Weeks was released on $40,000 bail from Fulton County Jail on the day he turned himself in to police. He is due in Fulton Superior Court on Friday.

Bynum said she was speaking about the incident Tuesday because she didn’t want her fans or colleagues to view her as a “damsel in distress.”

She said she intends to keep all her obligations to her ministry, including serving as host of an international talk show airing on Trinity Broadcasting Network.

A few hours after her 10-minute news conference Tuesday, Bynum was expected to appear as a special guest on TBN’s “Praise The Lord” program, a Christian talk show featuring ministers, gospel artists and other newsmakers. Fans learned of her appearance on Bynum’s Web site and began showing up at TBN studios in Decatur about noon to get a seat.

Bynum initially had planned her news conference at TBN but changed the location to the InterContinental Hotel in Buckhead. She stood poised with her hands clasped in front of her, wearing baggy jeans and a pink Daytona Beach sweatshirt. A diamond wedding band sparkled —- from her right hand.

Bynum would not speak about the future of her marriage to Weeks. The couple wed in an elaborate ceremony in 2002. They had been separated for several months before the alleged attack.

“This is such a difficult moment for me,” Bynum said. “First, I want to go on record and say I forgive my husband and I wish him all of the best.”

The pastor said while some of her supporters have kept quiet about the incident, she does not intend to move on with her ministry as if the attack never happened.

“Relationships are what they are, [they] have their difficult moments,” she said. “… This has changed my life forever.”

Born in Chicago, Bynum was reared in the charismatic Church of God in Christ, a denomination that has a history of female evangelists. She married in her early 20s but within a few years divorced. After years of moving from being a beautician to a Pan Am flight attendant to joblessness and food stamps, she came into the Pentecostal ministry.

She gained popularity nationwide more than a decade ago for her messages of female empowerment and for her popular “No More Sheets” sermon on breaking free of sexual promiscuity.

Bynum said that after the alleged attack she was holed up with family feeling “weak and helpless.”

But Tuesday she said she won’t keep quiet on the issue of domestic violence.

“This isn’t a religious issue, it’s a social issue,” she said.

Bynum would not say whether she would participate in the prosecution of her husband or discuss her feelings about him. She said she is focusing on her new ministry. “Instead of a victim, I want to become an advocate,” she said.