Archive for February 5th, 2008


February 5, 2008


Attention Women of Iowa: Oprah!!!

Sunday, Dec. 09, 2007 By JAY NEWTON-SMALL/DES MOINES PICTURE: Oprah Winfrey walks onstage before speaking at a rally for Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., Saturday, Dec. 8, 2007, in Des Moines, Iowa.
Charlie Neibergall / The first person to arrive outside Des Moines’ HyVee Center on Saturday morning — a mere seven hours before Oprah Winfrey would take the stage — was Heather Spurlin. Dressed for a long wait in snowy 12-degree weather, Spurlin, 37, is exactly the kind of person Barack Obama hoped Oprah would draw: a woman voter who knows what she’s doing every day at 4pm, but isn’t sure whom she’ll support on Jan. 3. “Oprah’s so personable and funny,” said Spurlin, who’s never caucused before but participated in an Obama campaign training session in order to get her ticket. “I hope to caucus this time. Right now I’m torn between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, though today may help me make up my mind.”

Obama’s Oprah offensive was calibrated not just to get women’s support — though of course, that would be nice — but to get Iowa’s women to pay attention to the race, full stop. In 2004, just 66,690 of 340,241 female registered Democrats in Iowa caucused. Even a few thousand more could make a difference; sure enough, with Oprah as a sweetener, 1,385 people (no gender statistics were available) worked four-hour volunteer shifts for Obama in order to qualify for a ticket to Winfrey’s appearance. (The campaign distributed a total of 12,000 tickets to supporters with another 11,000 given away online.)

Obama was making gains with Iowa women even before Oprah’s arrival — a November Des Moines Register poll showed Obama topping Hillary Clinton with Iowa women for the first time, with his 31% to Clinton’s 26% — and Winfrey’s appearance certainly kept up the momentum. When she took the stage in a purple velvet suit, the mostly female crowd exploded in joy. Many women were moved to tears. “Iowa — Hellloo! Hellloo!” yelled Winfrey. “Oh my goodness. At last, I’m here!”

Other than a bit of campaign sniping between America’s two most influential women — Clinton, in Des Moines on Friday: “Change is just a word if you don’t have the experience to back it up”; Winfrey, defending Obama Saturday: “We recognize that the amount of time you spend in Washington means nothing unless you’re accountable for the judgments you made at the time you had them” — the weekend was gentle and apolitical. Winfrey tried to motivate the HyVee crowd, but she didn’t talk policy so much as treat Obama like a favorite book; she raved about how much he moved her, and told her friends to check him out. Obama stood by in a black suit and white shirt with no tie, soaking it all in before giving a version of his standard 30-minute stump speech.

The real effect of Oprah on Iowa won’t be known until the caucus, but in the short term her cameo appeared to achieve what the Obama campaign hoped it would. “Obama’s got some really good ideas,” said Spurlin at the end of the rally. “But then so does Hillary, and I liked her husband a lot.” Sure enough, Bill Clinton will be in Des Moines on Monday, and Spurlin may go see him as well. If nothing else, Des Moines is drawing the A-List.


February 5, 2008


Summing Up Oprah & Obama
Monday, Dec. 10, 2007 By ANA MARIE COX Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama addresses the crowd in Manchester, New Hampshire while Oprah Winfrey and his wife Michelle listen, Dec. 9, 2007.
Manchester’s Verizon Center has, undoubtedly, seen many iterations of the wave. I suspect, though, that the occasion of a visit from Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey marked the first time the arena hosted a wave performed by an audience divided equally between middle-aged ladies in Christmas sweaters, hipsters in cords and ringer-tees and men of indeterminate ages bundled into parkas. Almost all of the 8,500 people packing the Center were white — and they were there to see two black people. Neither of whom would sing or throw a ball.

The wave was just one of the ways the audience tried to work off its nervous energy. They danced, they chanted. As disco music played, those seated near the curtained hallway to the back and left of the stage gasped when an elegant black hand briefly parted the curtain. An older black woman in an Obama t-shirt, bright kerchief and big glasses had a view just inside the sanctum; she hopped to her feet and waved her hands like she had just seen Elvis. The hand outside the curtain waved and pointed to her with an ironic, hep-cat flick of the wrist: Right on.

All of Barack Obama would emerge only after short speeches from his wife Michelle and his friend Oprah. Winfrey used her patented mix of girlfriend-style dish (“When Gayle and I talk… mmmm-mmm… we also talk about real things…”) and campaign-style sermonizing (“Experience… means nothing unless that person is accountable for the judgments they made during the time they had.”) That recipe was calibrated to reassure the audience that neither Oprah nor Obama was compromising here — that Obama’s ambition to be a candidate of nobility would not be diminished by Oprah’s status as a consumer guide. She even joked that she knew endorsing him was not the same as endorsing a new refrigerator. At the same time, neither would Oprah’s role as a cultural arbiter be diminished by her foray into politics. When her speech reached its climax, the touchstone was not the words of Martin Luther King Jr. (though he was mentioned), but a novel: The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. The slave Jane Pittman, Oprah said, looks for the one who might free her for years, asking, “are you the one?” Oprah then told the crowd, “He is the one.”

The frenzy that then greeted Obama, nearly four hours after the crowd had lined up outside the arena, was full of awe and hysteria. A lot people get excited to shake a politician’s hand; not so many greet one as though he were about to heal them by laying his on them.

Blurring the edges of the occasion, though, were reminders of political realities. Secret Service agents stood every ten feet at the edges of the in-the-round stage, their impassivity glaring, while the cheery, hand-painted signs waved by the crowd (“Obama 4 NH,” “HOPE/OBAMA”) worked best if one forgot that no audience members were allowed to bring signs in; anything that the crowd waved, no matter how sincerely they brandished it, had been provided for them. The campaign even roped the press into the game, emblazoning their badges not with the usual time/place/date formula (“Midwest Express Tour October 2007,” etc.) but with the same slogan that staff wore: “Change We Can Believe In.”

Pundits have focused on whether or not Oprah’s presence on the campaign trail will bring Obama more voters, but the four rallies Opr-ama did over the weekend were not intended to change people’s minds. They were about creating the kind of audacious political theater that makes supporters believe they’re going to win, and casual observers into interested ones. Indeed, the Obama campaign used the rallies less as an outreach program than as a reward system, distributing tickets to volunteers and those who had pledged to volunteer with higher priority than the general public. And those in attendance waved their appreciation.


February 5, 2008


Obama Rally UCLA 2/3/08
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Michelle Obama, Caroline Kennedy, Oprah, Stevie Wonder and Maria Shriver at the Obama Rally at UCLA in Los Angeles.

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February 5, 2008


Thousands Flock To XL Center To See Obama
10:12 PM EST, February 4, 2008
: On the eve of the Super Tuesday primaries, Barack Obama filled a downtown Hartford arena with the curious and the committed, offering himself as a cause, not a candidate for president.

Obama generated a vibe Monday night that veered from religious revival to rock concert, repeatedly pumping up a crowd of 17,000, then pausing to drink in their energy and applause.

“I submit that the American people desperately want something new, that they are hungry for something different,” Obama said.

He described his candidacy as a yearlong search, a gamble on the willingness of a divided America to be united around broad themes of hope and change.

“Today, I am here to report that after one year of crisscrossing the states, of listening to your stories, I am here to report that my bet has paid off and my faith in the American people has been vindicated,” Obama said.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, his new mentor and the man Obama described as the “master of the Senate,” said behind him, smiling and clapping. Kennedy’s niece, Caroline Kennedy, reprised her endorsement from a week ago, comparing Obama to her father, President John F. Kennedy. Her uncle had asked the crowd to “do for Barack Obama what you did for John Kennedy.”

U.S. Reps John Larson, Rosa DeLauro and Chris Murphy sat on stage with the Kennedys, frequently jumping to their feet and pumping their fists.

“Take a look at everybody here,” Larson told the audience, a mix of all ages and races. “Feel the momentum.”

Momentum is what Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton hope to find today as Democrats in Connecticut and more than 20 others states go to the polls.

Obama spent his last day playing arena politics, with mass rallies in New Jersey, Hartford and Boston.

Obama arrived a few minutes after 6 p.m., raising a cheer simply by taking microphone in hand. Over 48 minutes, he roamed a small stage at the XL Center, the new name for an old civic center.

He promised much — health care, better schools, an end to the war in Iraq. He skimped on details.

“We’re going to have a health-care system, not a disease care system,” Obama said.

With Kennedy, one of its prime sponsors, seated behind him, he promised to revamp No Child Left Behind.

“We’re not going to have teachers teach to the test,” he said.

The line in downtown Hartford started forming at 2:45 p.m., then snaked around the block. Saying the building was at capacity, the fire marshal closed off admission with about 100 people waiting in the lobby.

Politicians struggled for comparable events.

DeLauro said she was reminded of the night she waited with thousands for John F. Kennedy on the Waterbury Green in 1960. “That was such a galvanizing thing for me,” DeLauro said.

Murphy said he was struck by the thousands of young people in the crowd.

“This may be that historic moment for kids in their teens and 20s, something they’ll remember for the rest of their lives,” Murphy said.

PICTURE: Some lined up on a raw afternoon, ready to applaud a new hero. Others came to settle on a candidate, Obama or Clinton

At the very front of the line stood Edgar Chen, 29, and Judy Wong, 28, graduate students from Northampton, Mass. They hoped the rally would help them decide.

“I’m undecided between Hillary and Obama,” Chen said.

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Wong is similarly divided, although she’s leaning toward Obama and hopes what she hears today will tip the balance.

Nace McLaurin, 52, a social worker from Hartford, had no doubts: She didn’t hide her disdain for Clinton. A button pinned to her jacket read “Clinton Dynasty,” pierced by a red slash.

“She had another crying episode today,” McLaurin said. “She’s going to give women a bad name.”

She supported Bill Clinton twice in the past, but now views the couple as part of the past. “It’s time for a change,” she said. “We need a fresh face.” Maureen Vanderspurt, a mother and grandmother from Glastonbury, also arrived supporting Obama. A week ago, she stood in a similar line to see Hillary Clinton when the New York senator came to the Hartford Learning Corridor.

“I’m the mother of three girls,” Vanderspurt said. “I’d love to see a woman win.”

But she plans to vote for Obama.

“I trust my grandson’s future to him. Hillary is a very bright woman,” she said. “But she’s promising everything to everybody. You just can’t do that.”

Obama’s call for change resonated with Mark Rowan and Melissa Traynor. Both were unaffiliated voters until about 10:30 Monday morning, when they changed their registration to Democratic so they could vote in the primary.

“His whole message is really appealing,” said Rowan, 22, of New Britain. “He represents the greatest change out there of all the candidates.” Traynor, a 19-year-old Central Connecticut State University student from Glastonbury, said she likes Obama’s pledge to offer college students $4,000 in exchange for community service. “He knows how to reach the college-age crowd,” she said.

Jim Oliver, an insurance worker from Farmington, said he was undecided when he walked into the XL Center.

“I know she has baggage with Bubba and all, but I was leaning toward Hillary early on,” he said. As an African-American man, he acknowledged that there was there was “some significance in voting for someone that looks like me.”

But, he said, he is the type of voter who prefers to stick to the issues. He needed to know where Obama stood on matters that are important to him and the nation, such as the Iraq war and the economy.

As Oliver settled into his seat high above and behind the stage, he surrendered to the moment. He marveled at the size of the crowd.

“UConn basketball doesn’t get this many people anymore,” he said.

And he cheered frequently.

As the speech was nearing its end, Oliver said he had made up his mind: He’s going with Obama.

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