Politics & Policy

Obama-Oprah 2008

Can Oprah sell her favorite candidate?

Next week Obama is bringing in his biggest battalions — and I mean the biggest. Oprah is hitting the campaign trail with “her favorite guy” on December 8 in Iowa, with stops in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, and will be in both New Hampshire and South Carolina the next day. Earlier that week on December 5, in another appeal to women, Michelle Obama is supposed to co-host The View (however, she has said that if the writer strike continues, she will not cross the picket line). Still Obama, now running stronger, especially in Iowa, is trying to prove that you don’t have to be The Woman to get the women’s vote.

The turnout to see Oprah should be big. She usually draws massive crowds whenever she makes a personal appearance. In the past few years she has toured on and off with her “Live Your Best Life” self -help shows to sell-out audiences of adoring female fans. In order to get “preferred seating” at an upcoming Obama-Oprah event, a person has to pledge four hours of volunteer time for the campaign or attend a caucus training session by December 8.

But I am sure that Obama’s team does not want Oprah to preach only to the converted; they want to draw in some women who are excited merely by the historic opportunity of electing the first woman president. But if the most admired woman in America is supporting Obama, whom she has said “is something new, above and beyond politics,” it makes Clinton’s familiar mantra that women-just -because -they -are-women will inevitably support Hillary sound rather hollow.

Oprah has already used her star power to boost Obama, hosting an exclusive fundraiser for 1500 people at her lavish Montecito home in September. It brought in $3 million dollars to his campaign. As guests munched mini-hamburgers and corn-on-the-cob on the grounds of her estate, and were entertained by Stevie Wonder, she told them, “I haven’t been actively engaged before because there hasn’t been anything to be actively engaged in. But I am engaged now to make Barack Obama the next president of the United States.” A pretty strong statement. But that was behind high gates, with journalists kept on the outside — although Oprah did post pictures of her “bash” on her website. Oprah is certainly shrewd enough to realize that public endorsements are of utmost importance. She told Larry King “My support of him is worth more than any check I could write.” Maybe she has finally decided to get out there and campaign because his poll numbers in Iowa keep rising.

In the past Oprah has always been very careful about controlling her image, and keeping it non-controversial. She allegedly tries to buy, at a higher price than any publication would pay, every unflattering paparazzi picture of her. Even when her actions are touched by scandal, she masterfully defuses potential problems. For example, she quickly distanced herself from author James Frey and browbeat him when it was revealed his supposed autobiography, one of her book club selections, was more fiction than fact. And just a couple of weeks ago she apologized when the school she started in South Africa was embroiled in an abuse scandal. This past weekend she made a “secret” trip to Johannesburg to listen sympathetically, and to sort out the problems. The father of one of the girls who was reportedly abused declared, after their meeting, “I am happy. Oprah resolved everything.”

Oprah certainly has the power, like no one else, to promote a vast array of books and other products. Right now retailers are probably racking up sales for Ugg boots and Samsung camcorders which were included on her list of 2007 “favorite things” that were revealed on a recent show. But will she be as successful at selling her favorite candidate? And how far will she go? Will her stumping for Obama be the subject of one of her shows? Will her praise of him once again appear in her magazine in the one issue left before the early primaries? And though she is risking the loss of some of her fans who want Oprah’s advice on dieting but not her left-of-center politics, it will be interesting to see if she really has the girlfriend power to derail, at least for the time being, Hillary’s inevitability.

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.

Myrna BlythMyrna Blyth is senior vice president and editorial director of AARP Media. She is the former editor-in-chief and publishing director of Ladies’ Home Journal. She was the founding editor and ...


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