Obama Woos the Oprah Voter Again

She remains a powerful microphone for a White House looking to regain the 2008 magic

oprah obama.jpg

CHICAGO -- Sorry, America, but Chicago is not atwitter over President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama returning to tape "Oprah" on Wednesday -- even if its significance shouldn't be discounted.

Other stuff is going on. Two sports teams have been in the playoffs. Agonizing over two, underperforming baseball teams is in full swing. A policy Energizer Bunny, the maniacally-disciplined and primed-for-action Mayor-Elect Rahm Emanuel, is sucking up media oxygen prior to his May 16 inaugural. Gas prices are over $4.50 a gallon. And the economy's awful and people are hurting.

And ratings for Oprah Winfrey, the most potent force in daytime television, have been tracking downward in recent years. Even the much ballyhooed final season of her show, which opened with word that John Travolta would fly the entire audience of 300 by commercial jet to Australia (which he did in December), has seen a decline (with the exception of a few home runs, including an appearance by her long-lost sister).

Yet the Obamas' planned appearance (to be aired May 2) is surely a winner, in the great middle-brow cultural tradition of then-presidential candidate Richard Nixon making fun of himself on "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In" in 1968 or then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton in 1992 playing sax on Arsenio Hall's old show. Oprah, after all, is still as big as it gets on daytime, a force to be reckoned with, her ratings still unsurpassed elsewhere on the 300-plus channel smorgasbord of soaps, infomercials, maudlin flicks, endless "Law and Order" reruns, and knockoff talk shows.

"In an age of increasing cynicism and instant analysis, you have to find ways to communicate outside the filter of the political media," says Chicago-based Democratic political consultant Eric Adelstein. "Add to that the validation of a cultural icon, and it makes a lot of sense. It also makes him seem less 'political' and more 'institutional.'"

More "institutional"?

"To most, 'politics' is a turnoff," Adelstein elaborated. "Politicians are held in historically low regard. But as president if you are part of the cultural, institutional fabric that defines the day to day 'conversation' beyond politics -- 'Oh, Barack was on 'Oprah" talking about going gray, his daughters growing up, Michelle's anti-obesity campaign,' whatever, then you can transcended being 'just' a politician, or even 'just' the president."

There is too, the unavoidable political calculus, which goes beyond merely being embraced by a beloved icon who played no small role in the 2008 campaign. Oprah's endorsement and appearances on behalf of Obama may have been especially potent in the key initial Obama victory, at the Iowa caucuses, especially among female voters initially wary of supporting an African American.

The Oprah audience thus represents a demographic of women that Obama attracted in great numbers back then and probably needs to hold in large chunks if he's to be re-elected. Like other Democrats and independents, their loyalty is wavering somewhat now, and they certainly didn't provide much ballot box help to Democrats during the Republicans' mid-term election tsunami last November.

Presented by

James Warren is the Chicago editor of The Daily Beast and an MSNBC analyst. He is the former managing editor of the Chicago Tribune.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Politics

Just In