WASHINGTON -- The values-driven Oprah Winfrey, one of the most influential women in the United States by virtue of her wealth and moral authority, is an example of what Barack Obama's presidential campaign is trying to do: transform people who have not participated in presidential politics into believers jazzed up about being part of the process.
If Winfrey, who will host a fund-raiser for Obama on Saturday on the grounds of her Santa Barbara mansion, votes for Obama in the February Illinois Democratic primary, it will be the first time she cast a ballot in a presidential primary since at least 1988, according to her voting record on file with the Chicago Board of Elections.
Winfrey has an active general election voting record; however, she has skipped Illinois primaries except for 1994 and 2002. "Ms. Winfrey has voted in every presidential general election," said Winfrey spokesman Angela DePaul.
A Near North Side resident, Winfrey has not voted in Chicago mayoral elections and in 2004 did not help Obama win the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate.
» Click to enlarge image Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey and Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., in 2005.
But she is more than making up for it by lending her considerable support to Obama's White House bid. Until now, Winfrey has never lent her brand and influence to a candidate in a public way. The Obama campaign wish list has her stumping for him and making ads, but nothing has been confirmed.
Between 3 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Winfrey is opening her estate in Montecito -- near Santa Barbara -- for an Obama fund-raiser. Stevie Wonder and a host of Hollywood celebs are expected to attend.
In a memo sent out by Obama finance chairwoman Julianna Smoot, guests are told to wear garden attire and comfortable shoes for walking along the "meadow," a polite way to say the party is NOT in the house.
Attendees will check in at the Earl Warren Showgrounds, 8 miles from Winfrey's place. There will be valet parkers and a shuttle bus.
Because the event is sold out, the word among some in the West Coast donor community was that only new donors would be allowed to attend, not people who have already donated the federal maximum of $2,300 for the primary contest. There are plenty of exceptions, however.
There is a large contingent from Chicago coming out, led by Penny Pritzker, the real estate mogul who is Obama's national finance chief. Habitat Co. honcho Valerie Jarrett, a charter member of Obama's kitchen Cabinet and a close friend, will be there, as well as Obama pal Marty Nesbitt and his wife, Anita Blanchard, who traveled to Kenya with Obama last year. Mayor Daley's daughter Nora Daley Conroy and her husband, Sean, will be strolling on the Winfrey acreage, as well as former Illinois Lottery chief Desiree Rogers; Ariel Capital Management founder and Illinois Obama finance co-chairman John Rogers and Mellody Hobson, Ariel's president, who moonlights as an ABC News contributing editor, and Johnathan Rodgers, the president of TV One, and his wife, Royal.
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