PUNDITS AND pollsters are trying to figure out just how big a plus Oprah Winfrey is to the Barack Obama presidential campaign.
They know it's big, they just don't know how big.
Celebrity endorsements often don't mean that much in political campaigns, but Oprah is no ordinary celebrity. She is a role model for millions of women. Her credibility soars. When she recommends a book, it becomes an instant bestseller.
On the campaign trail in the three early primary states, the Oprah/Obama team packed 'em in, attracting record crowds.
In South Carolina, folks began lining up for seats before dawn for a 2:30 p.m. rally. On a freezing night in Manchester, N.H., with snow in the forecast, the double-O combo had 'em hanging from the rafters of Verizon Arena.
This duo is almost an embarrassment of riches. What Oprah brings to the table is a personality bigger than life, a magnetism that fills every seat. She assures Obama that when he speaks, lots and lots of people will be there to listen.
I know politicians who really need that.
Dick Gephardt comes instantly to mind. He had lots of substance, but little pizzazz. When the former Democratic House Majority Leader ran for president in 2004, he had a track record of accomplishments and important ideas for a better America, but too few people ever heard about it.
After Iowa, he dropped out.
But why does Barack Obama need a warm-up act? His appeal reminds me of Jack Kennedy's run for president in 1960.
Everywhere JFK campaigned, record crowds showed up, some just to see if he looked as handsome in person as on TV.
Obama has the same rock-star appeal. When he spoke to an overflow audience at the National Press Club earlier this year, the kitchen staff kept sneaking peeks and several regulars at the bar even climbed down from their stools to eye him as he walked by.
SOMEHOW, Oprah joining Obama is like Exxon-Mobil getting another tax break.
But somehow it seems to be working.
And combine the success of double-O with what Chuck Norris has meant to the surging Huckabee campaign - and pundits might have to re-evaluate the importance of candidate endorsements. *