I know Des Moines. I even have a T-shirt with the slogan “Let’s Keep Des Moines Our Private Joke,” which they probably still sell at Des Moines’s diminutive “International” Airport. I sympathize with the reporters who were racing over icy roads from Oprah’s first event on Saturday at the Iowa Event Center in Des Moines, to her second appearance which was in Cedar Rapids. It was just as dicey for those trying to fly out of Des Moines to get to her mega-meeting in the 80,000 seat William Brice Football Stadium in Columbia, South Carolina. Unlike the weather in Iowa, South Carolina was balmy. But Oprah and Obama filled only about 30,000 seats; good, but not great, for all that star power!
Back to frigid Des Moines which, for some reason, has never quite figured out what to do about snow. I remember slip sliding around those same streets, being driven around by a very depressed Hmong taxi driver whose sad fate was to end up so very far from his homeland in the middle of the snowy Midwest.
Hillary and company were also in town this weekend, courting the women’s vote in Des Moines. While the crowd of 18,000 was gathering for Oprah, she was using her daughter and her mom as counter programming. Three generations of Clinton women tucked into breakfast at Palmer’s Deli and Market; a pretty shrewd maneuver. I have no doubt lots of women in Iowa — the ones upon whom both Hillary and Obama now are focused — take their moms and daughters out to breakfast once in a while.
Hillary ordered the “Good Ol’ Iowa” omelet which includes both ham and bacon while mom had bacon on the side with her pancakes. Yes, Iowa is a mega pork-producing state. But Chelsea, even in Des Moines, didn’t go hog wild. She opted for an egg white omelet — I guess that’s kids for you.
Oprah took a different, but effective strategy. As one would expect, in her first appearances, she was low-key and clever in her presentations. First of all, she claimed she had voted for as many Republicans as Democrats — which is kind of hard to believe. Then she admitted she was nervous because she was “out of her pew.” Basically, she couched her partisanship in altruism. She told the crowd, “For the very first time in my life I feel compelled to stand up and speak out for the man who I believe has a new vision for America.”
She also gave a neat back-of-her-hand to Hillary, declaring that “the amount of time you spend in Washington means nothing unless you are accountable for the judgment you made.” And she made her position on the war even clearer than she does in her magazine by praising Obama for “[standing] with clarity and conviction against this war in Iraq.” Still, after she spoke in Des Moines, it was reported, quite a few women left while Obama was still speaking. They had come to see the star and now, with another storm coming in, there was shopping still to do and there were still Christmas cards to address.
By contrast, in South Carolina, in front of a mostly black crowd, Oprah was far livelier — giving the candidate a ringing endorsement, and bringing the audience to its feet. When she asked them to “Stand Up for Change,” she danced on stage with Obama and his wife to cheers and screams. Bill Clinton’s South Carolina events on the same day were characterized as “tiny” by comparison.
This weekend Oprah increased Obama’s star power by reflection, and obtained media coverage for him in every paper and on every TV channel. With his well-organized team on the ground in Iowa and the importance of African-American voters in South Carolina, she really could have helped turn his moderate surge into the Big Mo he needs.
Fascinating to watch. In the meantime, please pass the bacon to Hillary. And make it crisp — she may be in need of some comfort food.
– Myrna Blyth, long-time editor of Ladies Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness — and Liberalism — to the Women of America. Blyth is also an NRO contributor.