The Oprah Effect

Dean Reynolds is a CBS News correspondent based in Chicago. He's covering the Barack Obama campaign.
3596787 You could sense it over the weekend: the Oprah effect was registering not only on the crowds that came to Barack Obama's rallies, but also on his campaign staff.

David Axelrod, Obama's media guru, does not have the sunniest of demeanors. He shuffles into a room head down, eyes averted. A bit gloomy.

Saturday in Des Moines, though, he was as high as Richard Simmons on six cups of black coffee. Smiling ear to ear as he watched his man light up the hall and the 18,000 people who had braved a snowstorm to see him.

No wonder the campaign was filming the event for a possible advertisement down the road. The rally -- and the ones that followed -- were campaign spectacles, more akin to what you see in the waning days of a general election campaign.

Sure, Oprah Winfrey played a get-out-the crowd role. But drawing 29,000 people to a university football stadium on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Columbia, South Carolina was impressive.

The candidate was impressed too. Energized by the reaction of the throng, Obama gave one of his better speeches. It's clear that Oprah may be back on the campaign trail again if Obama needs her help.

But will he? There are signs the Hillary Clinton campaign is struggling. Too many self-inflicted wounds. Too many questions about who's planting which questions and too many snide criticisms of Obama's supposed determination to run for president from his days as a kindergartner. The Clinton campaign tried to laugh it off as a joke, but nobody was chuckling.

Bill Clinton was in South Carolina at the same time that Hurricane Oprah blew through town. His role is to shore up support among the critically important black voters who are holding fast to Hillary.

Yet many indicate they could bolt to Obama if he can show he can win. Nothing would do that with more efficiency than taking one of the first two contests: the Iowa caucus on January 3, and the New Hampshire primary on January 8.

Win one and you get a closer look. Win both and South Carolina not only is in play, but so too are the states in the big February 5 grab bag.

Lose two, of course, and it was nice knowing you, Barack.

  • Dean Reynolds

    Dean Reynolds is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Chicago.