DES MOINES, IA.—“Oprah and I were in Baltimore together,” Sen. Barbara Mikulsi (D-Md.) is telling me as we are waiting to board a plane to fly from Washington to Des Moines. Winfrey left a Baltimore television station in 1983 for Chicago.
“I was in the Baltimore City Council when Oprah was making her way on Baltimore TV. And we shared some of the limelight and some of the same diet doctors. So I have counted calories with Oprah, but now I am counting votes for Hillary,” Mikulski said.
I’m in Iowa to cover the political spectacle of megastar Oprah Winfrey stumping for White House hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) on Saturday in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids. She heads to South Carolina and New Hampshire on Sunday.
Mikulski, the dean of Senate women, is blitzing three Iowa cities for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), part of a surrogate team Clinton has here this weekend including her mother, Dorothy Rodham.
But Oprah Winfrey is in a category all her own. One of the most famous, richest, and influential people in the world, Winfrey is in uncharted political waters when it comes to the question of whether she has coat-tails and can help Obama win in these critical early presidential vote states.
Clinton’s strength comes from female voters and she will need a strong turnout from women to win; Winfrey’s daytime show and magazine is aimed at women.
“I think the world of Oprah. She makes a very important contribution, but in this situation, we have a difference of opinion,” said Mikulski.
“Iowa voters are very driven by wanting to know the meat of the issue. Of course, everybody would like to meet Oprah. Anyone who meets her knows she is a wonderful woman and would like to come to an event for her.
“But whether that translates into votes for Sen. Obama, I think, my feeling is they will come to the Oprah event and go to the caucus for Hillary,” Mikulski said.
In Iowa, Obama’s campaign are giving volunteers the best tickets for the Oprah rally and using the event as an organizing tool to identify supporters who so far have eluded canvassers or have not signed the omnipresent address cards at previous Obama Iowa events.
Obama is targeting Independent and swing Republicans in his campaign.
Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, a Republican, told me Winfrey will draw votes for Obama—but not from Republicans.
Said Grassley, “She will bring out for Sen. Obama a lot of people who maybe would not otherwise be involved in the political process. I doubt if she would bring out Republicans, but she surely going to bring out Independents and a lot Democrats who maybe would not go to a caucus.”