DES MOINES, Iowa–After 20 years covering politics, I’m a hard sell. I’ve seen every gimmick known to politicians: train trips, hang gliders, pyrotechnics and “intimate” conversations with voters in barber shops, front porches, diners and ice cream shops. Lord knows I have seen hundreds of endorsements.
But the Double “O” show, coming to an early primary state near you, was something else again. There was an “Iowa for Obama” sign on the wall, adorned with white Christmas tree lights. The obligatory banner hung in camera range just behind the podium. There were a couple of signs, but no fireworks, no hang gliders, just Oprah and Obama and thousands of their closest friends packed into a cavernous arena in downtown Des Moines.
Gayle (Oprah’s BFF) told one of the women seated next to her that Oprah was up until three in the morning writing her speech introducing Obama. She told people backstage she was nervous. I asked one of his advisers if the campaign had any input. “Nope,” he said “All the Big O.” If that’s true, Winfrey has a future. It was a great speech, and she is a gifted speaker.
The crowd was wild for Oprah. Thunderous applause. Camera flashes lit up the arena. Somebody yelled, “Oprah for Vice-President”. Obama turned around and smiled. That would be, he said “a demotion”. He spent so much time fawning over her she finally asked him to “move along.” He did which-minus the Ode to Oprah- was mostly his standard stump speech.
Afterwards, reporters were asking people in the crowd whether they came for Oprah or Obama. Face it, it’s caucus time in Iowa. They can see a politician any day of the week. This is the Oprah tour, and they understand that at Camp Obama. They welcome that at Camp Obama. She drew them in. He made his case.
Endorsements do not decide elections. I don’t think they matter much at all (I remind you of Al Gore’s endorsement of Howard Dean). But as I watched Oprah embrace Obama as thousands of people went crazy, I found myself wondering how many votes a hug is worth.
–CNN Senior Political Correspondent Candy Crowley