Washington: Oprah banks $260 million (Rs1,024 crore) a year as America’s top earning celebrity and sends novel sales rocketing with her television book club. However can Oprah sell Barack Obama?
US talk show queen Oprah Winfrey makes her campaign trail debut this weekend, with huge crowds expected to watch her bestow her showbiz blessing on the Democratic White House hopeful.
“If I were running for president right now, and I could pick on a celebrity to endorse me, it would be Oprah,” said Steven Ross, professor of history at the University of Southern California.
Winfrey’s legendary book club on her afternoon television chat show has made bestsellers out of crusty old classics and unknown first time authors. Political analysts now wait to chart her political impact.
She may also be able to reach the disenchanted 50% of Americans who never vote in a presidential election, said Ross, who is researching a book about how movie stars have helped frame US politics.
“Oprah is the one celebrity that could influence the American presidential election,” he said, adding that in a close race, small demographic shifts could make a difference.
Three-and-a-half weeks before first votes are cast in the Democratic nominating race, the Obama/Oprah roadshow will roll through key states Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina on 8-9 December. A publicity blitz is assured -- already the South Carolina event has been moved from a basketball arena to a football stadium after tickets were quickly snapped up.
“These events have generated overwhelming enthusiasm on the ground,” said Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt. In September, Winfrey drew a bevy of A-list Hollywood stars for a fundraiser at her sprawling California estate for Obama.
Her debut campaign trail appearance comes with polls deadlocked in Iowa, which holds fabled leadoff caucus nominating contests on 3 January, though Clinton still leads in New Hampshire, and with conflicting signs in South Carolina, where half the Democratic electorate is African-American.
Obama, who lives in Chicago, where Winfrey’s afternoon talk show is recorded, was asked by the city’s Tribune newspaper in September whether Winfrey’s support would make a difference.
Obama hopes Winfrey’s millions of mainly female disciples will help him outpace Hillary Clinton -- the first woman with a realistic chance of winning the White House.
“Oprah is somebody who has enormous reach, and that means that I may get a hearing in certain quarters,” he said.