In 2007, a then-junior Senator Barack Obama’s campaign for the White House took off when the one and only Oprah Winfrey endorsed his candidacy for president. At the time, the Oprah endorsement was seen as a game changer, helping the fresh faced Obama secure the middle class, white, American suburban female vote. White soccer moms all over American flocked to Obama at a moment where the relatively unknown politician from Chicago needed to secure that stamp of approval from the rest of Middle America. With Oprah came immediate legitimacy.
President Obama recently joked about that pivotal Oprah endorsement at a fundraiser saying, “And then, there is my good friend, Oprah, who very early on, when I was still running, just decided that she would support this guy with a name that nobody could pronounce,” Obama said, “And just like books and skin cream, when Oprah decides she likes you, then other people like you, too.”
Now President Obama is an incumbent seeking re-election. The power of incumbency is very real, and this time around a president hovering around 50 percent approval may not need much help from Lady O. While Oprah is supporting the president’s re-election efforts, she has said she won’t be hitting the campaign trail and doing Obama fundraisers this cycle like she did back in 2008.
Oprah said this week that she supports President Obama “100 percent,” but she also said, “I’m not going to be out there…I actually love our president and have the utmost respect for him and that office and what it takes to be there.”
With her OWN network ratings struggling, the celebrity credibility that only Oprah can bring is going to skip an election cycle. The Queen of Talk isn’t going to have the time to stump for President Obama.
And she doesn’t need to; President Obama no longer needs any celebrity co-signers to boost his credibility. This time around, the opposite may even be true, in that he needs to make sure that the celebrities he is affiliated with don’t go around saying outlandish things that he might have to denounce later on. The 2012 incarnation of Obama is the celebrity that celebrities want to be associated with.
In 2008, the McCain campaign attacked Obama for being a celebrity lacking substance but it’s clear now that as president he has celebrity status, substance and unique experience as commander and chief in abundance.
Furthermore, what Oprah’s endorsement brought Obama in 2008 in a big way was women voters, at a time when he was up against a formidable female opponent: Senator Hillary Clinton. An Oprah endorsement wouldn’t necessarily mean much now with regards to making gains among women voters because, in the aftermath of the attacks on contraception and, specifically, the birth control pill, President Obama has an 18-point lead in key swing states with women voters in the latest Gallup poll. The crucial group responsible for this major swing in Obama’s direction is women under 50.
Women don’t need an Oprah endorsement to decide to support President Obama, who recently released a web video supporting reproductive rights declaring that “women are not an interest group.” It’s easy enough to compare the president and his support for women’s health care to Mitt Romney who has talked recently about getting rid of Planned Parenthood. The choice could not be more clear for women, and they don’t need to learn it from Oprah’s Life Class.
Women voters are poised to affect the outcome of this election in a big way. This fact is not lost on the Obama campaign, and only time will tell whether the folks over at Team Romney will wake up and take notice, lest they let this election slip away.
President Obama’s strategic benefit from the absolutely insane debate over the birth control pill in 2012 may have a similar impact to the endorsement of Oprah Winfrey in 2008, which inflated his support significantly among women voters.
Follow Zerlina Maxwell on Twitter at @zerlinamaxwell