The good news for Barack Obama in Iowa: He’s on the rise, he’s hit his stride and, after much anticipation, Oprah will be out on the stump for him. The bad news: Well, it’s that Oprah will be out on the stump for him.
In the next two weeks, the Oprah effect will be analyzed, scrutinized and maybe even mythologized. And the conclusion is likely to be inconclusion.
Can she bring in votes? Will she draw moderate women? Is she Obama’s Bill Clinton-like surrogate? Polling has so far been of the “yes” and “no” variety (see my story on stars on the stump). Chances are we’ll never know, because why would anyone admit that a celebrity made them vote for someone.
So it goes like this. On the one hand, Oprah has got a proven ability to turn just about anything into gold, tapping into her large viewership to motivate them to buy or do things they otherwise would not. Morevoer, she draws an audience of women who otherwise wouldn’t be politically engaged, and so the thinking goes…
Then, on the other hand, because she is a superstar, the combination of her and Obama is bound to be nothing short of a media frenzy. The Iowa voters — and those in New Hampshire and South Carolina — are less likely to be star struck than they are shell shocked. In fact, Time’s Mark Halperin writes today that he wonders why Obama is deploying Oprah in the first place. Rather, he says a more effective event is a in New Hampshire this week in which the candidate and his foreign policy experts will meet with local residents to help blunt criticism that he’s too inexperienced to be president.
Her endorsement “helps bring the following four things to Obama: campaign cash, celebrity, excitement and big crowds,” Halperin writes. “The four things that Obama has on his own in great abundance — without Winfrey’s help — are campaign cash, celebrity, excitement and big crowds.”
And even the candidate himself seems to know the limits of celebrity.
Back in August, as buzz built around Winfrey’s fund-raiser at her Montecito home, Obama told Jon Stewart, “I think having Oprah’s support is wonderful … But the truth is, in Iowa and New Hampshire, people just want to talk to you. There’s no one who can do that job other than you.”
In fact, they expect that person-to-person contact, which is why candidates have to tread so carefully in making sure that they and their message aren’t eclipsed by the celebrities out there for them. And for all of the fame and phenomenon of Oprah, she is probably no exception.