Oprah Winfrey in New York last year. (Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)

At this time in 2009, there was only one VIP whose arrival in Washington was as hotly anticipated as that of the new first family: Oprah Winfrey.

The Queen of All Media had galvanized Barack Obama’s fledgling 2008 campaign with her exuberant, first-ever endorsement — telling massive rallies that “he is the one,” hosting a star-studded $3 million fundraiser — and her presence at that inauguration was no less epic. She taped her show here that week, made the rounds of several balls — and was among the elite gang of insiders toasting the new POTUS at a late-night White House after-party.

This year? Oprah’s not coming at all.

A rep told us that Winfrey — who on Thursday was busy putting the finishing touches on her vaunted Lance Armstrong interview — had speaking engagements out of the country during inaugural weekend.

Yet Winfrey was also strikingly absent from the 2012 campaign. No fundraisers, no rallies — not even a get-out-the-vote Election Day tweet. She visited the White House in July to conduct an interview with the Obamas for O magazine, but also did a similarly cordial interview with Mitt and Ann Romney .

Oprah Winfrey with Stedman Graham at the Capitol on Inauguration Day in 2009. (Reuters)

Aides dismiss any notion of a falling-out. Winfrey gave $75,800 to the Obama Victory Fund last year. And she and Michelle dined together in Johannesburg the previous summer when their paths crossed there.

The big difference, some colleagues note, might be in Winfrey’s own life. Four years ago, she was the host of a mega-hit TV show, with political capital to burn; now she’s the busy and preoccupied CEO of a struggling cable channel, OWN.

“She may feel as a network owner that she shouldn’t be picking sides,” one associate noted.

Another friend suggested to us that she simply wants the Obamas to have the spotlight for themselves: “She’s a very considerate person. It’s their time.”

Related: Inaugural balls: Our guide to the official bashes, unofficial parties and too-good-to-be-true pitches, 1/8/13

For many presidential inaugurations, the second time is not the charm, 1/15/13

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