Oprah Winfrey embraces Barack Obama as she campaigns for him in Des Moines. Michelle Obama, the candidate’s wife, is at left. (Photo: Joshua Lott for The New York Times)
DES MOINES – “Oh my goodness,” Oprah Winfrey said. “At last, I’m here.”
With those seven words here today, Ms. Winfrey stepped into American politics as she has never done before, opening a three-state tour in her quest to support the presidential bid of Senator Barack Obama.
“For the very first time in my life, I feel compelled to stand up and speak out for the man who I believe has a new vision for America,” Ms. Winfrey said, speaking over more than 10,000 screaming admirers. “I am not here to tell you what to think. I am here to ask you to think – seriously.”
As she strode onto the stage at the Iowa Events Center in downtown Des Moines, she waved and looked momentarily taken aback by the size of the crowd, the largest to assemble this year in a state awash in presidential politics. From the moment she started her 17-minute address, she declared that she was uncertain of the true power of her endorsement, saying: “I don’t know about all that.”
“I am so tired of politics. That’s why you seldom see politicians on my show, because we only have an hour,” Ms. Winfrey said. “When you listen to Barack Obama, when you really hear him, you witness a very rare thing, you witness a politician who has an ear for eloquence and a tongue dipped in the unvarnished truth.”
Ms. Winfrey is, of course, hardly a stranger to speaking before large crowds. But as she explained her support for Mr. Obama’s candidacy, she stood behind a lectern, reading from prepared remarks, conceding, “I feel like I’m out of my pew.”
“Backstage, someone asked me if I’m nervous,” Ms. Winfrey said. “You damn right I’m nervous.”
She ticked through a list of Mr. Obama’s accomplishments, from his days as a community organizer to a state senator to a U.S. Senator. When she hailed his opposition to the war, “long before it was the popular thing to do,” the crowd responded with a roar of approval.
“There are those who say that Barack Obama should wait his turn. There are those who say that he should take a gradual approach to presidential leadership, but none of us is God,” Ms. Winfrey said. “We don’t know what the future holds, so we must respond to the pressures and the fortunes of history when the moment strikes. And Iowa, I believe that moment is now.”
With that, Mr. Obama took the stage.