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Iowa: Oprah Opens For Obama

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The following piece was produced by HuffPost's OffTheBus.

Des Moines, Iowa--- Oprah Winfrey will appear in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids on December 8, throwing her formidable reputation and celebrity power behind Senator Barack Obama's presidential campaign. Campaign officials hope the TV icon's appearance will both invigorate current Obama supporters, and motivate first-time caucus goers to participate in the state's Jan 3 caucus -- an event that is traditionally poorly attended.

"I'm excited about Oprah coming to Iowa for Barack. She's transcended celebrity because she is committed to change, deeply involved in those areas like poverty and education, and she sees Barack as someone who can do that on a national level if he becomes president," said Gayle Collins of Des Moines, an Obama supporter.

Tired of health care squabbles and the finer points of moving troops out of Iraq, both supporters of Barack Obama's presidential campaign and uncommitted Iowans are thrilled by the news that Oprah will be visiting their hometown twenty-six days before the Iowa caucuses in a tight three-way race between Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards for the top spot.

National Spokesperson for the Obama Campaign, Bill Burton said, "It's her first campaigning for us since hosting the fundraiser at her home. We couldn't be more pleased to have her support and the opportunity to build on our momentum and the tremendous enthusiasm for Obama in these early primary states."

Oprah will appear at an event in Des Moines and then will be whisked off to single events in New Hampshire and South Carolina.

No venue has been chosen for the Des Moines event just yet but the Iowa press spokesman for the Obama campaign, Tommy Vietor said, "This event is a way to thank our supporters and volunteers and to also expose uncommitted voters to Senator Obama. We'll be giving away tickets first to our precinct captains and their guests, then to our volunteers and their guests, and then to our supporters. We'll also be inviting uncommitted Iowans who want to hear Senator Obama."

Of course, the big draw is Oprah and the Obama campaign is strategically using the event as a way to keep their soldiers pumped up and draw in a few new recruits just days before the Iowa caucuses, the first national presidential preference contest slated for January 3, where caucus goers will cull the big field and send the top three candidates onto the all-important New Hampshire Primary just five days later.

As one of America's most popular television personalities, Oprah has also honed her reputation as one of the most generous philanthropists. Her daytime talk show is one of the longest running in television history and one of the most influential catering to a largely female audience.

"I think Oprah is really going to help him [Obama] with women," said uncommitted Democratic voter Vicki Schipul of Des Moines.

In a recent story, political reporter Anne Kornblut wrote: "Oprah Winfrey--who long ago endorsed Sen. Barack Obama, and could be his best hope for peeling away women voters from Sen. Hillary Clinton..."

Tommy Vietor responded by saying, "We aren't trying to peel away any specific demographic from any other candidate. Besides, we're leading Hillary Clinton with women voters according to the latest ABC/Washington Post poll. Having Oprah here is one way we are trying to appeal to all of our supporters - and reward them - and appealing to those who haven't heard Senator Obama yet."

Former Iowa Democratic Chair and now Obama supporter, Gordon Fischer said, "One of the dirty little secrets of the Iowa caucus is that not many people participate, just like in any other kind of primary. So, if someone like Oprah can motivate voters who are uncommitted and those who haven't participated, that's a good thing. Besides, she has a unique power, probably more than any other celebrity, because she recommends things to people - books, shoes, whatever - and people follow her advice. We'll see if that translates into politics. I'm very happy where the campaign is right now. You want to organize, organize, organize and then get hot toward the end and I think that's where we are."

Will the Obama campaign be bringing more celebrities to Iowa?

Bill Burton said, "Celebrities aren't a central part of our campaign. We're focused on organizing in Iowa and the other early states."

The truth is, celebrities always play their part during the Iowa caucus showdown, especially in the waning weeks of a campaign cycle that continues to be as fluid as this one.

It's a good strategy because most Iowans have already met all the candidates. You can hardly avoid them and bringing in big stars that would normally avoid a little state like Iowa or New Hampshire - no movie studio's or late night disco's here - continue to attract crowds.

"I think bringing Oprah in will definitely attract voters. A lot of people went to the Edwards event at Roosevelt High School [in Des Moines] last week just to hear Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Brown perform and so did I. Having celebs at your events, well, it's a good way to get them [voters] in the door. After Bonnie and Jackson performed, everyone heard from John Edwards who gave a speech," said Phyllis Mumford. "I'll probably go see Oprah, too. Where is the event?"

She went on to say, "I've been sitting on the fence for months but after hearing Edwards one more time, (she has met all of the Democratic candidates) I've decided to caucus for him and then switch to one of the other candidates if he doesn't have enough votes to be viable. Of course -she laughs - that could still change."

Like most Iowans who aren't totally committed to a candidate, Mumford's loyalty to her first choice remains shallow and a celebrity event could swing Heartland voters who don't normally see a celeb shopping at the local Hy-Vee grocery store. It's also a last chance to make an impression.

If a candidate isn't the first choice then he or she could be the second or third choice and that matters when most caucus meetings require several votes before a candidate has the 15% of those gathered to be viable. These are the arcane rules the Iowa Democrats follow in their caucus meetings as opposed to Republicans who only require a simple majority of those present to chalk up a victory.

Gossip magazines like In-Touch write specifically for the Midwestern female demographic. They know where their bread is buttered and so do national political campaigns.

John Edwards crisscrossed the state for two days last week with musical headliners Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Brown - to much larger crowds than he normally musters on the trail these days.

Chuck Norris, star of Walker Texas Ranger, starred in the GOP insurgent candidate, Mike Huckabee's first television commercial in Iowa and professional wrestler, Ric Flair has also joined the Huckabee star-studded campaign entourage.

The hot R&B musician, John Legend, performed for Obama supporters before the recent Jefferson Jackson Day dinner in Des Moines.

We hear that George Clooney was supposed to be making an appearance for Obama during the JJ dinner weekend festivities but he was stuck in Europe doing what celebrities do in Europe.

We also hear that Hillary Clinton's campaign was supposed to bring in the Goo Goo Dolls during the JJ dinner weekend to perform at her pre-Jefferson Jackson dinner but they bailed out and the event was cancelled.

Look for more celebrities hitting the campaign trail in Iowa and in New Hampshire as this campaign heats up and the locals finally tune-in, knowing just how important their vote counts in the 2008 presidential campaign.

One question remaining: When's Brad Pitt comin' to town?