Oprah in talks to play larger role in Obama campaign


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.”

17 thoughts on “Oprah in talks to play larger role in Obama campaign

  1. star1

    Way to go Oprah! Barack Obama has certainly come along way since the beginning of his campaign and it appears he is in it to WIN it!

  2. I’m as Skeptical as SB about this, but if it came down to Hillary or Barack, I’d have to go with him, because at least, if he gets to talking about war, there will be more people in Congress more willing to put impeachment on the table as far as he’s concerned.

    Plus, Michelle would probably slap him upside his head if he did that once he got the White House.

  3. All I have to say is I love Oprah and if I was American I would vote for Obama. Actually…wouldn’t it be cool if he won and then divorced Michelle and married Oprah! They would be the most powerful couple on earth!

  4. maliha11

    lols @ bronze trinity

    well i think Oprah is a very well aware American women who knows this much to judge the right person from wrong and am very confident that she wouldn’t help some one who wasn’t good enough to serve the USA..
    I would want if Oprah would run for presidency but i guess her choice of the upcoming candidates wouldn’t harm.

  5. Denise

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


    Let me just say that I LOVE Oprah! I respect her accomplishments and her enormous genorosity. It’s wonderful that she wants to lend her peronal support to Senator Obama’s campaign.

    That said, Oprah’s opinion has no bearing on my political choices one way or the other. I got this.

  6. Michael

    Very interesting, depending on the role she takes, it will be interesting to see what happens with her TV show. Most will not tolerate her show becoming simply a stump for Obama and based on McCain/Feingold, they will have to be careful here. But considering they are democrats, I’m sure they will figure out a way to be subversive. Certianly thier pals in the media will not ever let us know the actual arrangement. Still curious though, Barrack is not black, and Oprah is giddy to overlook that, his total lack of experience and record and dismal instincts when it comes to foreign policy. I am very wary of this, and as a poster said earlier, Oprah carries no weight with many, and Obama will need broad support to ever have a chance so her PR machine is really needed. Perhaps she can get this empty suit in office, who knows. Scary thought for sure. But we’re still a long way from the election.

  7. Whatever roll Oprah plays in Obama’s campaign, it will be the role Michelle decides she should have, and not Oprah herself.

    Michelle don’t play that. If Oprah gets to the point she’s forcing Mrs. Obama out of the picture, watch how fast her “volunteerism” draws down to making campaign donations, endorsement speeches and nothing else.

  8. “i think Oprah is a very well aware American women who knows this much to judge the right person from wrong and am very confident that she wouldn’t help some one who wasn’t good enough to serve the USA”

    Let’s hope so, but I recall she did get suckered by endorsing some phony storyteller for her book club. Not to cast any aspersions on Obama…but I’m just sayin’… 😉

  9. I know its been a while but the office will make you tired.

    Afternoon to all.

    The young and inexperienced thing to me is an extension of calling a black man “boy” I will leave that where it lay.

    If you actually take a real look at his experience, record and JUDGEMENT. Then you would fall back.

    I mean he called this entire war to a T before it even happened, and some other candidates have yet to even admit they were wrong.

    And we can question his blackness, whatever that means, all we want. But trust me white people aren’t.

  10. Denise

    I’ve been reading about it, Rikyrah.

    Earl Graves earned a spot in my personal Field Negro Hall of Fame for pulling the plug on Griffin’s “minstrelosity” 😉

    Yes, indeed! Team Graves!

  11. I’ll start from early on in my evolution… I am a biracial man whose father is African-American and mother is Caucasian. My parents met in 1959 when my un-wed mother was in a nursing school where my father was employed as a nurses aide… my mother was engaged to a white man who was attending engineering school. My father had an African-American wife and (5) children at the time of his extra-marital relationship with my mother. At some early point of my mothers pregnancy with me she made the decision to marry her fiance, and to lie to everyone about who the father of her un-born child was… she achieved this by claiming that I had been afflicted with a skin-disease called “melanism”.

    My mother and step-father had four more children together in the space of nine years after I was born, and we grew up together in a middle-class household in white america where the subject of “race” was never discussed. My earliest recollections of having to be aware of race was when I was asked questions about the color of my skin by other classmates in first grade… “Why was my skin dark?”, “Was I adopted?” race was certainly a hot-button issue in 1965-66 when I began school , but any awareness that my mother and step-father had achieved from growing up in their white neighborhoods in the 40’s and 50’s was insufficient in preparing them for raising a biracial child… and to complicate things, they were both in complete denial of their complicity in my mis-education. When I came home from school after having been asked questions by fellow students from my all-white school district, my mother then explained “the skin-disease story” to me… “other kids with this disease usually have dark blotches all over their bodies, so you should feel fortunate”. When I would tell my mother about other boys and girls who would call me names or act aggressively for no apparent reason, I began to understand that I would get no further assistance from her to explain this rationale… my step-father was even more removed from the conversation and would only add, “You know what your mother said”.

    By the time that my step-father transferred jobs and our family of (7) had moved from the all-white Cleveland, Ohio suburb of Stow to the all-white school district of Portville in Western up-state N.Y. it was the spring of 1970 and I was in fourth grade, and already the veteran of many racial incidents and altercations between myself, classmates, and even some adults. My four younger siblings had also been told the same story, and had to explain the same things to their friends when asked why they had a brother who was black… “Hey, did your mother fool around a little bit??” I remember how much that hurt me when I heard it, and I’m sure that they felt just as badly when they did… nonetheless, this was a “subject” that we never discussed as a family, not once, at least in my presence.

    I was taught through my observations of my mother and step-father to keep quiet about things that I wasn’t sure about, and I was also taught to ignore the obvious.

    As I matured into my teen-aged years and began to experience societies issues and insecurities in coming to terms with this countries racial in-equalities during the 70’s, I felt an increasing need to rationalize and then codify the information that my mother had given me, regardless of what I was beginning to realize inside… I felt a growing discomfort/conflict, yet there was no one in my life to offer any prospective… I had learned that black people were a part of society that we didn’t talk about. ( There was a black family in my small town, and they were poor and lived in a run-down house near the river…I never had any opportunity or reason to associate with them)

    I was a “B” student and also began taking an interest in sports where I was above average. Meeting other schools and student athletes were opportunities to then be exposed to populations that had not been inured by my story yet…I was just another black kid to them.

    Communicating my experiences to my mother and step-father was difficult because they had no experience with racial prejudice, therefore when I had problems with other children it would be looked at as an issue that “I” had in getting along with others(as well as intra-family sibling issues).
    Because “race” was being ruled-out entirely, by my mothers denial of my father, she could not logically use that rationale to explain any conflicts that I would have. My step-fathers complicity in this was to blindly support my mothers viewpoint.

    The “white” viewpoint has always been that blacks(black society) were pretty well cared for, and what contact they did have would be polite and careful… What, with the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Acts being passed, the playing field had been leveled.(re: my mother and step-father’s generation)
    The feelings and comfort of my mother were apparently what was important, and her inculcation had to have been partly comprised of the idea that white society acted as the gate-keepers and care-takers of an infantilized black population.


    How has black society formed its identity?

    What role models have been used, and how does white society react to positive
    black role models today? (Are they held to a more critical prism??)

    Is there enough information readily available for black people to easily form a
    positive racial identity?

    Is it important that black society is able to connect accurately the dots of its social
    evolution in America? and is it also important that white society can connect those
    same dots??

    What is White Privilege?

    What is White awareness?

    What is Whiteness?

    What about Affirmative Action?

    Is Race just a social construct?

    How do we improve our society in America?

    Is there any other way(besides the attrition of the old guard) to achieve this??

    Dave Myers

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