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.
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'I'm Tired of Politics as Usual'
The crowd responded to Winfrey enthusiastically when she alluded to Obama's opposition. "We the people can see through all that rhetoric," Winfrey said. "We recognize that the amount of time that you've spent in Washington means nothing unless you're accountable for the judgments you made with the time you had.
"We need good judgment," she continued. "We need Barack Obama."
People began arriving hours before Winfrey's 3:30 p.m. appearance; about 23,000 tickets were dispensed, and attendees weathered subfreezing temperatures and a wintry mix of snow and ice to make it to Hy-Vee Hall.
Clinton's counterprogramming included three small-scale events scattered outside Des Moines. At a stop Saturday morning in Winterset, about 100 people gathered in a chilly warehouse at the local airport, where Clinton addressed health care, veterans' benefits and organic farming. Her daughter and mother sat off to the side of the stage, smiling and clapping with the crowd. Neither spoke, although Chelsea Clinton worked the crowd energetically afterward with a gracious "Hi, thank you for coming," while urging people to support Clinton on Jan. 3. Clinton ignored questions about the Winfrey event, turning away from the microphones to shake hands along the rope line.
It was far removed from the celebrity buzz generated by Winfrey, although Bea Leonard's 8-year-old grandson Spencer was giddy, having secured autographs from each of the three women on a baseball he had brought along. "She makes such a good impression," Leonard said, as Clinton carefully inscribed her name with a blue felt pen. But she said she is not ready to commit just yet. She also likes New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.
Heidi Reimer, who works in an eyeglass factory in Afton, thought about driving into Des Moines for the Obama event but, worried about icy roads, took in the event here instead. "I'm kind of going a little more toward her," she said, gesturing toward Clinton. But the Winfrey factor gives Reimer pause. "I think it will make a difference," she said.
Maureen McGarry of West Des Moines, a political independent who is shopping both sides for a 2008 candidate, said she heard about Obama's stirring speech at the Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner last month, and was disappointed that he did not deliver a repeat performance Saturday. Instead, Obama offered an abbreviated version of his stump speech.
"I was curious about Barack's message, that's why I got the tickets," McGarry said. "I thought there would be more." She came away impressed with Winfrey, and a little surprised at the force with which she delivered her endorsement." I love Oprah, but today was about finding out more" about Obama, she said. Her conclusion: "He's very charismatic."
Saralyn Alderman, 58, who drove from Ames for the event with her daughter and a group of friends, said she has followed Obama's career since he was elected to the Senate in 2004. She has never attended a caucus, but said she is committed to showing up this year. She is a big Winfrey fan, but said the candidate's appeal was not lost in the glare.
"It got a lot of people here, which is good," she said of the talk-show host's appearance. "But the ones I know came because of him."