An earlier version of this article reported that senior advisers to Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) spent days with Oprah Winfrey last week helping her prepare her Saturday speech in Des Moines. The Obama campaign says that those aides did not see her speech until the day it was delivered.
'I'm Tired of Politics as Usual'
Sunday, December 9, 2007
DES MOINES, Dec. 8 -- Oprah Winfrey put her star power behind Sen. Barack Obama on Saturday, telling a rapt audience of thousands that she is joining the fight for the White House because she is "so tired" of the status quo in Washington.
"You know I've never done this before and it feels like I'm out of my pew," Winfrey told the crowd. "I'm nervous."
Without mentioning Obama's chief rival, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), by name, Winfrey made a vigorous case against her. Winfrey said she is concerned that "if we continued to do the same things over and over and over again, I know that you get the same results."
The popular talk-show host's dramatic appearance at a packed arena overlooking the state Capitol -- her first on behalf of a presidential candidate -- helped underscore the high stakes in the nation's first caucuses, scheduled for Jan. 3. Running neck-and-neck in the polls here and unable to predict how voters will react to sharp clashes close to the holidays, Clinton and Obama (D-Ill.) are campaigning furiously, with an emphasis on female voters.
Clinging to her role as the national front-runner, Clinton scrambled to match the moment with her own advocates, bringing in both her elderly mother and her daughter, Chelsea, to campaign with her for the first time. Clinton struck a low-key note, all but conceding that Obama's high-wattage events would dominate the weekend news, and continued her efforts to get Iowans to turn out for her on caucus day.
"I always think it's better to go to the caucuses with a buddy. Today, I've got some buddies with me," Clinton told an audience in introducing her family.
The Obama campaign noticeably slowed in the days before Winfrey's speech as it prepared for the event. Taking the stage in Des Moines accompanied by the candidate's wife, Michelle, Winfrey initially appeared nervous, and clutched a sheaf of papers as she spoke. But she quickly warmed to the crowd, her voice booming through the hall as she said that "this is not a time for any of us to shrink away from a new, bold path for our country."
Obama appeared last, and, describing Winfrey as "someone who moves an entire nation" acknowledged that he was not the main attraction of the day. Winfrey, beginning a three-day swing through Iowa, South Carolina and New Hampshire for Obama, shifted in her seat nervously as the candidate piled on praise. "This is a wonderful person. We love her. I am grateful for her being here," he said, before turning toward his guest and adding, "She's embarrassed."
Polls show the top three Democrats -- Obama, Clinton and former senator John Edwards (N.C.) -- bunched closely at the front of the pack in Iowa. A central pivot point in the race, especially between Clinton and Obama, has been whether Democratic voters are looking for change or experience. Winfrey repeatedly proclaimed Obama as the only true change agent in the contest, discounting the Clinton campaign's argument that the former first lady represents both change and the experience needed to implement it.
"Experience in the hallways of government isn't as important to me as experience on the pathway of life," Winfrey said. "I challenge you to see through those people who try and convince you that experience with politics as usual is more valuable than wisdom won from years of serving people outside the walls of Washington, D.C.," Winfrey told the crowd estimated at more than 18,000.
"What we need is, we need a new way of doing business in Washington, D.C., and in the world," Winfrey said. "You know, I am so tired. I'm tired of politics as usual. That's why you seldom see politicians on my show -- because I only have an hour."
Winfrey said she has voted for as many Republicans as Democrats, declaring that her support for Obama is not about partisan politics. The Clinton campaign played down the significance of the moment and declined, as it has since Winfrey's decision to back Obama was first announced, to offer any direct rebuttals.