Can Oprah do for Obama what she does for books?

Wed Dec 5, 2007 9:42am EST
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By Andrew Stern

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Celebrity political endorsements do not get much bigger than Oprah Winfrey's.

But political experts say it is doubtful the popular U.S. talk show host can sway votes to fellow-Chicagoan and first-term Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, the way she persuades viewers to turn books into instant best-sellers or adopt her self-help philosophy.

"People say that she won't be able to snap her fingers and have Iowans jump," said Dennis Goldford, a political scientist at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.

"She will help furnish him with an audience of people attracted to her, for him to make his own pitch," Goldford said. "I think she can sell his books a lot easier than she can sell his candidacy."

Winfrey's book club choices have catapulted such tomes as "Anna Karenina" and "The Road" to best-seller lists, and her shows featuring serious topics such as child abuse have earned numerous awards, and imitators.

The media spotlight is expected to shine this weekend on big crowds at four joint appearances by Winfrey and Obama. On Saturday they hit Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and on Sunday they hit two other early voting state, with stops in Columbia, South Carolina, and Manchester, New Hampshire.

Iowa holds the first contest of the party nominating process with its January 3 caucuses. Last weekend's Des Moines Register newspaper poll showed Obama edging ahead of New York Sen. Hillary Clinton in Iowa, with former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards trailing just behind.

The campaign bills Winfrey as Obama's "special guest," and those wanting to secure a seat at the free Iowa events were asked to volunteer or take a caucus training course.   Continued...

<p>Oprah Winfrey (R) poses with Senator Barack Obama (L) and his wife Michelle Obama at an Obama '08 fund-raiser for Barack Obama's presidential campaign, hosted by Winfrey at her home in Montecito, California September 8, 2007. REUTERS/Harpo, Inc./Handout</p>