In what’s billed by some enthusiastic boosters as one of Barack Obama’s most exciting events of the year, Oprah Winfrey will host a $2,300-per-person fund-raiser for the presidential candidate at her home in Montecito on Sept. 8.
Event will be the entertainment industry’s latest high-profile fund-raiser for a 2008 candidate in a year that has already seen Hillary Clinton feted at Ron Burkle’s sprawling Green Acres mansion and Clinton and John Edwards hosted at Brett Ratner’s fabled Hilhaven Lodge.
While Winfrey’s fund-raiser may translate into a donor windfall for Obama, it’s uncertain whether her much sought after seal of approval will lead to actual votes; Winfrey has never backed a presidential candidate before.
Even before Obama announced his candidacy, Winfrey pledged to campaign for him. After he jumped in the race, she followed up on her promise and gave her official endorsement on “Larry King Live.”
“I think that what he stands for, what he has proven he can stand for, what he has shown, was worth me going out on a limb for,” Winfrey said on “Larry King Live” in May. “And I haven’t done it in the past because I haven’t felt that anybody — I didn’t know anybody well enough to say, ‘I believe in this person.’ ”
She was also quick, however, to say good things about Clinton.
In general, the thinking among many political consultants is that celebrity endorsements of presidential candidates don’t mean much in terms of actual votes.
It seems absurd to think that Steven Spielberg’s recent endorsement of Clinton’s campaign, for example, would create an electoral uptick. But what it did do is send a message that her candidacy had gained momentum, particularly in Hollywood. And among second-tier candidates like Christopher Dodd, who recently campaigned through Iowa with singer Paul Simon, such an endorsement can help bring in much-needed crowds and publicity. Some undecided spectators who were drawn to Simon’s presence said it lent some credibility to Dodd’s candidacy, particularly for the baby-boomer generation.
Winfrey, however, is a different story, a daily TV presence with tremendous success turning books, magazines or charities into overnight sensations.
“Almost anything she does has a tremendous popular impact,” noted entertainment industry political consultant Donna Bojarsky, adding that even if celebrity endorsements don’t directly translate into votes, they can “give a cultural validation to a candidate.”
“I think it does have an impact, and she has the ability to raise money,” Bojarsky said.
It’s doubtful that Winfrey would use her show as a campaign platform, as it would invite scrutiny from other campaigns that would likely claim she is flouting equal-time laws. And there is the danger of backlash: Some of her fans may have already decided they’re not going to vote for Obama. The campaign has made no announcement about Winfrey stumping on the trail for Obama.
Winfrey’s fund-raiser is expected to draw from her own network of contacts, and not just in Southern California, where donors have seen a blizzard of 2008 contenders. Some already have maxed out — meaning they cannot give any more to a candidate under election laws.
The additional attraction may be the chance to see Winfrey’s home. She bought the 42-acre seaside estate, called the Promised Land, for a reported $50 million. As is standard with most fund-raisers, if you commit to raising more, you get a more personal experience with candidate and host. Those who commit to raising $25,000 for the event will get into a VIP reception, and those who pledge to raise $50,000 will get a VIP dinner.