While Iowa was still reeling from a crippling ice storm — I drove enough in it this weekend — the weather was significantly better in South Carolina, and it paid off for the Barack Obama/Oprah Winfrey tour.
Nearly 30,000 people showed up at the University of South Carolina’s football stadium, in what was easily the biggest crowd for a political event this season, with Arrested Development providing entertainment.
There was a smaller crowd at an event Sunday night in New Hampshire, with some 6,000 to 8,000 people at the Verizon Wireless Arena, but it was still “the most attended political event in recent state history,” according to the Boston Globe.
The crowd of mostly African Americans reacted especially well to Winfrey’s references to the black experience, particularly in the South, according to the New York Times Caucus blog.
The Times’ Katherine Seele writes, “Ms. Winfrey noted that some say Mr. Obama should “wait his turn.” But, she said, “I wouldn’t be where I am if I waited on the people who told me it couldn’t be.” The audience erupted with applause.”
Winfrey also appeared more comfortable on stage, and once again dismissed notions that her nod would be like her book club.
“People are thinking, is this going to be like my book club?” she said. “I’ve got some sense….”I know the difference between a book club and this seminal moment in our history.”
Some 11,000 people were expected later in the day in New Hampshire.
Meanwhile, the reviews are coming in. Howard Fineman of Newsweek is glowing about Oprah’s speeches.
He writes, “She is astonishing, truly. The woman was on her maiden campaign trail voyage, and yet she already she was better—more cogent, more effective, more convincing—than anyone out there.”
But therein lies the trouble, he writes, in that she’s been outshining him on the campaign trail.
“The pictures were great—there will be ads on the air soon from this event (the Obama staff had three cameras working it). But the candidate went on—and on—and toward the end seemed to leave the crowd less pumped up than Oprah had made it.”
In Des Moines, Obama spoke for about 30 minutes, but it was a tough act to follow Winfrey. Even he as much as admitted it. Given the size of the crowds, will the campaign try it again? Several people I talked to in Des Moines expressed the concern that Oprah would obscure the candidate, and that perhaps there would be a backlash, or even some confusion as to just who they are voting for. So it would seem to make sense not to overexpose her (if that is at all possible), and stick to the adage of less is more.
Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, was diplomatic in talking about Winfrey and the notion of celebrity endorsements in general (and she has a hefty supply of her own, starting with her husband).
She said in a campaign appearance on Saturday, “Everybody wants to have his or her supporters speak out and try to persuade voters to support whoever their candidate is,” Clinton said. “But, at the end of the day, it’s a choice among those of us who are running. And I think that most voters understand that; they sort it all out; they make up their decisions.
“They can be influenced by a myriad of factors. And I think as we move toward the caucuses on January 3rd and then on to New Hampshire and Nevada and South Carolina and all the other states, voters are going to be weighing everything. And I trust voters to make the decision about who they think would be the best candidate and who will be the best candidate.”