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The Magic Touch?

Oprah Winfrey will host a fundraiser for Obama's Democratic presidential campaign at her Montecito, Calif., mansion.
Oprah Winfrey will host a fundraiser for Obama's Democratic presidential campaign at her Montecito, Calif., mansion. (By Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)

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By Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Oprah-Obama '08 bumper sticker was meant to be only a lark, hawked on the Internet for $3.99 under the catchphrase "Just when you thought there was no hope for the Democratic Party . . ."

Turns out the sentiment, at least, may not be entirely fanciful.

Oprah Winfrey, the nation's wealthiest African American and host of an afternoon television program, endorsed Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) in May. Now, she is in discussions with his advisers about playing a broader role in the campaign -- possibly as a surrogate on the stump or an outspoken advocate -- or simply bringing her branding magic to benefit his White House bid.

On Saturday, Winfrey will host her first-ever presidential fundraising affair on the grounds of the Promised Land, her 42-acre ocean- and mountain-view estate in Montecito, Calif. -- an event that is expected to raise more than $3 million for Obama's campaign.

Although no guests will be permitted to enter Winfrey's house, a few dozen VIPs will have special access to Winfrey.

The fundraiser may be only the start. The Winfrey and Obama machines have maintained silence on the exact nature of their talks over what her role will be, but the idea of her appearing in television ads and other appeals is very much in play. She offered during a recent interview with CNN's Larry King: "My money isn't going to make any difference. My value to him -- my support of him -- is probably worth more than any other check that I could write."

Winfrey met Obama and his wife, Michelle, on the Chicago social circuit before his 2004 Senate bid, and they have remained friendly since. It was two years ago, when the Obamas attended the white-tie Legends Ball at Winfrey's Montecito home, that Winfrey first broached the idea of doing something she had never done before -- hosting a political event.

"I was saying wouldn't this be a great place for a fundraising," Winfrey recalled in an interview rebroadcast on her Web site. "I said it jokingly."

Since then, Winfrey has had the Obamas as guests on her television show, featured them in her magazine and gushed about the senator's potential to change American politics in repeated public appearances.

"For me, this was the moment to step up," she said in a recent radio chat with friend Gayle King.

Historically, there's little evidence that celebrity endorsements have done much to draw voters to political candidates. In fact, there is some consensus among political strategists that while mega-stars might generate an occasional burst of media attention, they are often not worth the downside that a close association with Hollywood can create.

But several political analysts pondered the impact of a full-court press by Winfrey and said they believe her involvement could be different.


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