Oprah on a Plane — for Obama The one-name entertainment wonder spent the weekend stumping for Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama. NBC reporter Aswini Anburajan reports.
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Oprah on a Plane — for Obama

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Oprah on a Plane — for Obama

Oprah on a Plane — for Obama

Oprah on a Plane — for Obama

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The one-name entertainment wonder spent the weekend stumping for Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama. NBC reporter Aswini Anburajan reports.

(Soundbite of song, "Think")

Ms. ARETHA FRANKLIN (Singer): (Singing) I ain't gonna be able be the loser my way, be careful you don't lose yours, you better think.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Think.

Ms. FRANKLIN: Think about…

Ms. OPRAH WINFREY (TV Host): Whoa-ho.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Ms. WINFREY: Too much.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Ms. WINFREY: South Carolina, South Carolina.

LUKE BURBANK, host:

You are getting a free car. Oh, wait, that's the actual "Oprah" show. Some talk host lady named Oprah, I think, hit the campaign trail in behalf of Barack Obama this weekend, Alison.

ALISON STEWART, host:

Yes.

BURBANK: Her Oprah-ness sold out appearances in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Ms. WINFREY: What I know is that disappointment doesn't have to be normal anymore.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Ms. WINFREY: For the first time, I'm stepping out of my pew, because I've been inspired.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Ms. WINFREY: I've been inspired to believe that a new vision is possible for America.

STEWART: He's one of her favorite things.

BURBANK: Let's go to church. Let's do that.

Aswini Anburajan is a reporter for NBC and National Journal. She was with the Oprah-ma tour in Iowa and South Carolina, and she joins us now by telephone.

Hi, Aswini.

Ms. ASWINI ANBURAJAN (Reporter, NBC): Hi, how are you?

BURBANK: Great. Thanks for coming on. So, who showed up for these rallies?

Ms. ANBURAJAN: Everyone, I would say.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BURBANK: Everyone in America.

STEWART: Doesn't stay in South Carolina.

Ms. ANBURAJAN: It looks that way. And, I mean, to put it in perspective for you, think about this. About 18,000 people showed up in Des Moines, Iowa. That's a tenth of the caucus-going population. I mean, a little or almost a fifth of it, if you think about it, because last - in 2004, about a hundred thousand people caucused across the entire state. So when you think about the number of people coming out, it's absolutely extraordinary.

South Carolina, which you'd, you know, you were playing the sound from there and I was laughing because we were on the press risers, and our mouths just literally dropped open and someone said, whoa, when the crowd just screamed. And they didn't stop when she came out on the stage. I just - I never knew.

BURBANK: Who was there? Was it…

Ms. ANBURAJAN: I mean, you always know that Oprah is popular…

BURBANK: All right.

Ms. ANBURAJAN: …but to actually, like, see people react to her is unbelievable.

BURBANK: Was it mostly women? Was it mostly African-American? Mostly white? I mean, could you get sense? Was there - who was there?

Ms. ANBURAJAN: Who was there? In Des Moines and in Iowa, there was a great cross-section of people. Someone joked it was a Benetton ad. You probably saw all the diversity you probably could see in Iowa in those rooms.

BURBANK: You know, Benetton had 60-year-old women as its models, right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ANBURAJAN: I know, right? But in Des Moines, there was a great - it was a pretty strong cross-section. There were a lot of minorities there. There was a - obviously, a tremendous number of white voters. Lots and lots and lots of women, as expected, but a lot of men, also.

And not just Democrats, tons of Republicans were there. I found a little gaggle of Giuliani supporters who were very unimpressed by Barack Obama, left within five minutes of him speaking, but cheered Oprah and were really excited to see her and said that it's a credit to him that he has someone so eloquent to endorse him. So, I mean, she's really someone that reaches out across all kinds of people.

In South Carolina, the crowd was overwhelmingly African-American. It seemed like it was almost all women. There were, of course, men there, but the majority were women. I mean, just lines and lines and lines of women waiting in line, a lot of them older. About 11 percent of African-American women older than 55 watch "Oprah" on a daily basis. So you can imagine like what kind of crowd that she would draw in that state.

STEWART: Aswini, did she talk politics at all, or was she just basically there to be a cheerleader for Obama?

Ms. ANBURAJAN: She was - it was an artful way of talking about politics. I would put it this way. She, you know, and she gave a pretty long preamble, especially in her first speech in Des Moines. She seemed a little nervous, actually, when she came out on stage, and she referenced that. And she just was - she joked about her book club and said, you know, I know the pundit say that I sell books, so I can sell votes. I don't assume to do something like that.

I think what she stressed more than anything were that these were - as she called them - dangerous times, and that she needed someone who she felt that she could actually finally believe in. So it was far more of a cheerleading prep rally - pep rally for Barack Obama and saying that he's an evolved leader, he's inspirational. He can bring the change.

She had this quote about - from the autobiography of Jane Pittman, and she quoted the main character saying - going up to all these young children saying, "Are you the one? Are you the one?" And she ended her speech like that, saying that Barack Obama is the one for her, and she thinks that he's the one for most people. The only real political point that she stressed strongly was her opposition to the Iraq war.

BURBANK: Let's hear a little bit more from Oprah in South Carolina kind of talking about, you know, how seriously she does take this.

Ms. WINFREY: I'm not here to tell you what to think. A lot of people say am I thinking this is going to be like my book club? You know, I get lots of people to read books. That's a very good thing. But I got some sense. I know the difference between a book club and this seminal moment in our history.

BURBANK: I saw an amazing headline - or a photo, I guess, spread in the Boston Herald today, BostonHerald.com. It had a huge picture of Oprah, and the headline was: Winfrey wows them in bid to boost what's his name? Did people connect the dots that this was for Barack Obama, or did she overshadow him?

Ms. ANBURAJAN: There's no question her speech overshadowed him. She was incredibly eloquent, but I think that everybody knew that this was for Barack Obama. And the difference is that this wasn't necessarily a political crowd. I talked to a ton of people, especially in Iowa, where they've never caucused before. This is a new population that they're bringing - the campaign is bringing in. So in the sense of what's his name, perhaps these are voters that are getting acclimated and acquainted with Barack Obama for the first time.

Like, I found this wonderful group of women, all on their 50s, very boisterous, I mean, hardcore Oprah fans, and were - had never caucused before, and now are open to doing it because of Oprah.

Were they necessarily going to caucus for Barack Obama? Not really. I mean, there were two of them who were pretty conservative. But one of them was. She was considering it because of him. And I think in that sense of like is there -you know, did she - was she the main draw? Of course, but there's - people's ears were open to Obama's message because of it.

BURBANK: At any point, did Barack Obama jump on a couch and talk about Katie Holmes?

Ms. ANBURAJAN: Not for this, but…

BURBANK: Because that is not working out for Tom Cruise.

Ms. ANBURAJAN: (unintelligible) but he seemed - I mean, when he came out he definitely gave her a big hug, I would say. And they danced on stage in South Carolina. They ended it beautifully.

I think I wrote in my piece that it was - I mean, this amazingly - it was this wonderfully choreographed political moment, like, the music is rising. They come on stage, they danced together, the three of them. The crowd starts dancing. It was just a - it was really infectious atmosphere. I mean, I think the press had a lot of fun covering it. I think the crowd had a great time, also.

BURBANK: Meanwhile, somewhere in Iowa, Hillary Clinton cried into a waffle breakfast by herself. Aswini…

Ms. ANBURAJAN: Well, Chelsea was there.

BURBANK: What's that? What's that?

Ms. ANBURAJAN: Chelsea was there.

BURBANK: Yeah, I know. They…

STEWART: She was drying her mother's tears.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BURBANK: Yeah. Chelsea gave her a backrub. It's all right, mom. Aswini Anburajan from NBC National Journal, thank you very much.

Ms. ANBURAJAN: Oh, you're welcome.

STEWART: Funny part of that, somebody - apparently, the crowd started cheering Oprah for vice president, and Obama said, you know that's a demotion for her.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: Did you get that?

BURBANK: Coming up on THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT: We're going to talk about the Roma culture in America, kind of a little understood group of people who had their own sort of legal system, except now some of them are taking their problems to the U.S. legal system.

STEWART: And the most e-mailed articles in New York Times today: The 53 places to go in 2008. We won't run through all of them. One or two. Iran? Laos?

BURBANK: Seriously?

STEWART: Lisbon? Stick around. It's the BPP.

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