Jumat, 07 Desember 2007

Can Oprah sell Obama on US campaign swing? (AFP)

WASHINGTON (AFP) - She banks 260 million dollars a year as Americas top earning celebrity and sends novel sales rocketing with her television book club -- but can she 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.

Celebrities often swell a candidates crowd, but rarely send voters flocking to polling stations -- but might Winfreys megastar wattage break the rules?

"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, like Obama an African American, had more authenticty to her audience than most movie stars, Ross said, as unlike most Hollywood royalty she has a long history of social activism.

She may also be able to reach the disenchanted 50 percent 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.

However, a Pew Research poll in September found that nearly seven in 10 Americans said Winfreys endorsement choice in 2008 would not sway their vote.

"This is uncharted water," said Bruce Ransom, associate professor of political science at Clemson University, South Carolina.

Winfreys 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.

Obama hopes Winfreys millions of mainly female disciples will help him outpace Hillary Clinton -- the first woman with a realistic chance of winning the White House.

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 Saturday and Sunday.

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.

Obamas campaign aides are planning to fan out at the events, and sign up audience members as volunteers, hoping to swell the Illinois senators armies of young supporters.

But it is the kind of person who makes up Winfreys audience that is most important to his campaign.

Of Winfreys daytime audience of more than eight million, three quarters are women, and more than half are older than 50, according to reports citing Nielson media research which produces television ratings.

In other words, exactly the kind of people on whom Clinton is counting on to vote for her potentially historic quest.

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 January 3, 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 Winfreys afternoon talk show is recorded, was asked by the citys Tribune newspaper in September whether Winfreys support would make a difference.

"Oprah is somebody who has enormous reach, and that means that I may get a hearing in certain quarters," he said.

According to a recent Gallup Poll, Winfrey is considered the second most influential women in the United States. The most influential? Hillary Clinton.

Winfrey also topped Forbes Magazines list of top earning celebrities, pulling in a staggering 260 million dollars over the year leading up to June 2007.

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