(this is a longer version of the print column)
LOS ANGELES — The Obama campaign pulled off a tour de force on Super Bowl Sunday afternoon in targeting female, independent and Republican voters at a rally featuring a surprise endorsement from Maria Shriver, the wife of GOP California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. She was joined onstage by Shriver’s cousin Caroline Kennedy, Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama.
The only man in what was designed as an all-female lineup was Stevie Wonder, who just came by Pauley Pavilion on the campus of the University of California, Los Angeles to attend the hastily arranged rally. He sang an a cappella riff the audience joined in with just two words: Barack Obama.
“Follow your own truth,” said Shriver, whose uncle is Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), who endorsed Obama, and whose husband endorsed Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for president. “I’m standing here because I want to be here. I wasn’t on the schedule, and I thought to myself when I woke up this morning, I thought, there is no place I should be but right here today.”
The rally comes just before the “Super Tuesday” caucuses and primaries in California, Illinois and 20 other states. A San Francisco Chronicle poll published Sunday showed Obama has cut into the lead of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and is in a position to overtake her in California, which offers a prize of 370 delegates.
Winfrey delivered a stemwinder, now practiced after appearing for Obama last year in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina and hosting a fund-raiser for him at her estate near Santa Barbara. Winfrey pressed the case that women who are leaning to Clinton because she is a female should change their minds.
“This election itself is a declaration of victory for womens rights and civil rights. And now we are free…We are free to vote our minds and our hearts. We are free to be led by our hearts. We are free from the constrictions of gender and race. And so for the first time, we can just vote as we believe. And we can do that because that was what the struggle was for,” Winfrey said.
After Obama won Iowa, Winfrey said some women “had the nerve to say to me . . . ‘you are a traitor to your gender.’ I was both surprised by that comment and insulted because I’ve been a woman my whole life and every part of me believes in the empowerment of women, but the truth is I am a free woman.”
Kennedy, who was in Washington D.C and Denver for Obama last week, covered some of the same ground for this new audience. “I am here today because I have never had a candidate who inspires me the way people say that my father inspired them. But I do now,” she said.
Another spouse of a presidential hopeful, former President Bill Clinton, stumped at several African-American churches in the Los Angeles area in the morning, flying to New Mexico in the afternoon to watch the Super Bowl with Gov. Bill Richardson, who has not made a formal endorsement since dropping his own White House bid.
The rally was a testament to the organizing power of the California Obama campaign. The rally location — at the home of the UCLA Bruins — was announced about 6 p.m. Saturday and a crowd of about 6,500 came through e-mail chains, word of mouth and local news stories. As many as half of the expected votes may have been cast, since California early voting started Jan. 7, which cuts to Clinton’s advantage.
Shriver, whose husband comes out of California crossover politics, is helpful because Obama is trying to capture California voters who did not affiliate with Democrats or Republicans and who may be paying attention to him now—and who did not already vote. Californians could start absentee voting on Jan. 7 and almost half the expected vote may already be done. Independents can vote in the Democratic primary but are banned from the GOP contest.
Obama argued he can woo Independents and Republicans better than Clinton during a Sunday interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation” where he told host Bob Schieffer, “I don't think there's any doubt that the Republicans consider her a polarizing figure.
"Now, keep in mind, I don't expect that should I become the Democratic nominee that I'm going to be immune from some of the attacks that I think the Republican spin machine is so accustomed to. But what we have found -- this is true in Illinois when I was running for the United States Senate, I think it's going to be true nationally -- is that the tone that I take, the ability to disagree without being disagreeable, the willingness to listen to Republicans about some of their ideas, even though I may not agree with all of them, I think that creates a different climate. And I think that we can attract independents and Republicans in a way that Senator Clinton cannot."