Although the press covers them pantingly, endorsements often mean little -- if anything -- in presidential politics. The days when a public official could deliver a constituency have long since passed. Even labor unions, once rock-solid in their bloc-ability, have been unable lately to steer their members to a chosen candidate.Certainly most celebrity endorsements mean little, particularly given their normally leftward tilt and unsurprising tenor. But Oprah Winfrey, the $260 million dollar woman in 2006, has cache that most celebrities only dream of. If her endorsement of a book can lift an otherwise mediocre book to the top of the best seller list, what do you think she can do for a political candidate? While her influence with her audience is limited on her TV show, her magazine and other media outlets don't operate under such "fair play" rules. Winfrey's influence among the very voters that Hillary Clinton calls her base, lower and middle class women, means that Clinton must be sweating this endorsement and certainly has her lawyers watching every Winfrey telecast.
Sure, endorsers may help a candidate's fundraising efforts by granting access to their Rolodexes. And the support of a mayor can usually get a few senior citizens to the polls on Election Day. But that's about it.
Unless, of course, the endorser in question is Oprah Winfrey. If anyone is an exception to all the rules, it's Oprah.
From her still-popular TV talk show, to O magazine, to her book-club endorsements that regularly lift titles -- any titles -- to the lofty top slot, Oprah's influence on American culture is enormous. One leading television historian has called Oprah "the most celebrated and powerful black woman in US history." (Okay, it was me.) Life magazine has labeled her "America's most powerful woman." Forbes magazine went one step further, calling her the most influential person in the world. None is exaggerating.
In some polls, Oprah even ranks as the celebrity Americans believe to be most qualified to serve as president. Another recent survey from about.com ranked Oprah as the country's favorite entrepreneur, with nearly double the votes of that ne'er-do-well Bill Gates. And a 2003 VH1 poll named her the country's greatest pop-culture icon -- beating out, for example, Superman and Elvis. It's not just that everything she touches turns to gold; when Oprah speaks, America listens. When she tells them to buy something, they do.
Yeah, Oprah can deliver votes for Obama, but will it be enough to win? Maybe, just maybe.