For the first time in more than 20 years as a popular media personality, Oprah Winfrey has ventured into the political arena by endorsing Illinois Sen. Barack Obama in his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.
"I've never taken this kind of risk before or felt compelled to stand up and speak out before, because there wasn't anyone to stand up for before," Winfrey said during an appearance at the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids on Dec. 8, adding that she is not trying to tell anyone what to think but merely asking people to think seriously about Obama.
The television host campaigned alongside the senator and his wife, Michelle Obama, over the weekend in Iowa, South Carolina and New Hampshire. Despite icy road conditions in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, the events in those cities drew approximately 18,000 and 10,000 people respectively.
"I believe that Barack Obama will bring statesmanship to the White House," Winfrey said, arguing that the next president must have diplomatic skill in order to succeed in what she called dangerous times.
Explaining that she is worried about America, the television host said it's not only terrorism that concerns her but also what she characterized as the United States' growing estrangement from the rest of the world. In order to surmount today's global challenges, she said, Americans need to reconnect with the world and realize that all human hearts are the same.
Winfrey also addressed the question of whether Obama has the experience needed to succeed as president.
The amount of time a politician has spent in Washington isn't important unless that person is willing to be accountable for what he or she has done there, she said in a possible jab at Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y. Citing the Iraq war as an example, Winfrey said Obama stood against the war with clarity and conviction long before it was popular to do so, which drew some of the loudest cheers of the night.
Recent polls suggest Obama's strategy of emphasizing the importance of sound judgment and the ability to facilitate change may be succeeding in countering concerns some have raised about his limited experience in politics at the national level.
Obama led the Democratic field with 28 percent support among likely caucus participants in the Des Moines Register Iowa Poll from the end of November. Rodham Clinton placed second in that poll with 25 percent, and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards placed third with 23 percent.
The McClatchy-MSNBC Poll, which Mason-Dixon Polling and Research conducted from Dec. 3-6 in the key early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, also shows an increasingly tight race.
Though the poll shows Rodham Clinton ahead in all three states, her lead over Obama is no more than 3 percent in any of them, which is significantly less than in most polls over the course of the campaign thus far.
Apparently recognizing the threat from the Obama campaign, Rodham Clinton has recently increased her focus on the need for political change and combined it with her emphasis on experience. Her most recent television ad in Iowa argues America needs "a new beginning" in foreign policy, pledging to end the war in Iraq if she is elected president.
"America desperately needs a new beginning, and we need a leader with the experience to help us achieve it," Rodham Clinton Iowa director Teresa Vilmain said in a press release announcing the new ad. "Hillary Clinton is the only candidate who can hit the ground running on day one to directly take on the challenges we face and bring real change."
At the Cedar Rapids event with Oprah, Obama directly confronted the notion that he should have waited longer before running for president. He argued that the fierce urgency of the issues facig America compelled him to run in 2008.
"Now is the time to stand up and create a new America," he said.
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