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OBAMA PLAYS THE OPRAH CARD

 

Thursday, December 13, 2007.

 

By Keith Boykin

 

The political world has never seen anything like it. Oprah Winfrey stumped for Barack Obama over the weekend and brought out more than 70,000 people to campaign appearances in Iowa, South Carolina and New Hampshire.

 

The 30,000 people who jammed the arena in South Carolina were the largest crowd ever for the Obama campaign.

 

''There are those who say it's not his time, that he should wait his turn," said Winfrey. "Think about where you'd be in your life if you'd waited when people told you to,'' she said, adding ''I'm sick of politics as usual."

 

I've never been convinced that a celebrity endorsement made much of a difference in a presidential election, but it looks like Oprah may be different.

 

I'm not saying Oprah will make voters support Barack Obama, but she will create enough buzz and attention around his campaign to make people take a second look at him. The New York Post called it "O-Mentum." Coming on the heels of new polls showing Obama leading in Iowa and gaining in New Hampshire and South Carolina, Oprah's weekend tour couldn't have come at a better time for the Obama camp.

 

And it doesn't just stop with Oprah. Hollywood's biggest A-list star, Will Smith, is also ready to hit the campaign trail for Obama. He told the New York Post that he offered to campaign for Obama. "I just gave him a call and asked him to tell me wherever you think you need me. I think he's what the future of America is going to be. Barack represents what I feel is the future of the optimum survival of America."

 

This is what happened when 26-year-old Kristen Price traveled 120 miles from Bennington, Vermont to Manchester, New Hampshire to see Oprah and Obama. Price said Oprah was really the main draw to the event. "She played a big role, I'll admit it, but he held his own just fine,'' she said. She had been torn between Obama and Clinton, the New York Times reported. But after the Oprah event, she was sold on Obama. ''It was like a religious experience," she said "It was inspiring. I feel like now America could do anything.''

 

When was the last time you heard a Democratic voter describe a campaign event like an inspiring religious experience?

 

That doesn't mean Obama will win the election. He still has major hurdles to cross. Newsday columnist Sheryl McCarthy says black voters are still torn.

 

"Just two weeks ago, a poll by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies showed Hillary Clinton beating Obama 83 percent to 74 percent among African-Americans on an overall favorability rating. She also beat him among African-Americans on her positions on the war in Iraq, Social Security and health care," McCarthy reports.

 

What the Oprah Winfrey endorsement does is provide hope for the Obama campaign. Hillary Clinton's campaign has been selling experience and inevitability as her appeal, but as New York Times columnist Frank Rich pointed out in his weekly Sunday column, "The most experienced candidate in 2008 is not Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Giuliani or Mr. Romney in any case. It’s Mr. McCain, Joe Biden, Chris Dodd and Bill Richardson who have the longest résumés."

 

Rich argues that Mike Huckabee has become the Barack Obama of the Republican Party and that both men are betting that the country is at a crossroads like 1960 "when Americans are hungry for a leader who will refocus the nation on the path ahead."

 

Nobody should be fooled into thinking that Hillary Clinton will go down without a fight, but for the first time since the campaign got started in the winter, it looks like Barack Obama may be ready to give it to her.

 

Keith Boykin is a writer, broadcaster, journalist and political commentator. He blogs at Keithboykin.com

 

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