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January 12, 2008

Oprah Intimidated?

Did Oprah get intimidated by women into backing away from her public support of Barack Obama? Could that have been one of the reasons Hillary Clinton pulled a surprise win out of New Hampshire? Robert Novak says yes:

The absence of Oprah Winfrey from the frantic four last days of the New Hampshire primary campaign after her heavy schedule in Iowa backing Sen. Barack Obama may be traced to heavy, unaccustomed post-Iowa abuse of the popular entertainment superstar by women.

Winfrey did not publicize it, but her Website was swamped with complaints after she went to Iowa. The principal complaint was that she betrayed women by not supporting Sen. Hillary Clinton. The criticism was described as personal.

I'm not certain how much Oprah had to do with Obama's success in Iowa in any case. Hillary had never gained a lot of traction there, and John Edwards beat her to second place on the back of the standard populist fare that won him second place in 2004. Is Iowa really Oprah Country?

However, exit polling in New Hampshire strongly suggests that women turned out much more heavily for Hillary than earlier polls had suggested, perhaps as much as 13 points stronger. Some of that may have come from the emotional outburst Hillary delivered on the eve of the primary. Perhaps some of that could have been turned around with an effort from Oprah on the trail in the last couple of days, especially in Nashua and Manchester, the largest cities and Hillary's strongholds in the Granite State.

If true, Obama may need supporters with a little more tenacity. Did Oprah not expect to receive criticism from her mostly-female constituency for not backing Hillary? Could she have been that naive about the likely reaction? If she wants to play in politics, she needs to prepare herself for the consequences of partisanship.


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