The Oprah Effect
I have been asked frequently over the past few days about whether Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement tour with Barack Obama will have any real impact on the Democratic presidential contest. In general, I subscribe to the notion that endorsements do not have much impact on electoral outcomes, but there are a few ways in which this particular endorsement might pay at least some short-term dividends for Obama.
First, the tour through Iowa, South Carolina, and New Hampshire has generated more free media coverage of Obama and his message than any campaign event in recent memory, dominating the news cycle over a four-day period, and perhaps even longer. As the saying goes, you can’t buy that kind of publicity. Second, the voter information gleaned from the tens of thousands of citizens who attended the various rallies will no doubt be put to extensive grassroots use by the campaign, as it mobilizes core supporters and reaches out to potential first-timers in these key early states. Third, there is a sense among observers that, unlike some other perennial celebrity endorsers, Oprah’s unusual direct involvement in a presidential campaign brings with it a seriousness of purpose that may resonate with voters, particularly women and minorities, two important constituencies for Democratic candidates.
So, while Obama must ultimately close the deal with voters, there is a sense that Oprah’s involvement with his campaign has turned out to be more than your typical celebrity endorsement, one which might help Obama energize likely supporters, while bringing some new ones into the process, as well. If Obama wins the Democratic nomination, it would be fascinating to see Oprah back out on the campaign trail during a general election campaign. I am not sure what venue would be of sufficient size then.

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