- The Washington Times - Monday, January 8, 2018

Oprah Winfrey shook the 2020 presidential field to its core.

The television mogul’s 9-minute speech accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the Golden Globe Awards ceremony Sunday transfixed the media, politicos and liberal activists alike, and left Ms. Winfrey’s friends saying she’s “actively” considering making a bid for the White House.

She’s already won the Hollywood primary, capturing the hearts of the actors, directors and producers who provide star power and much of the cash that keeps the Democratic Party going.

And party leaders in Iowa and New Hampshire, the early caucus and primary states, said Ms. Winfrey has become a political force to reckon with.

“She would be a very serious candidate very quickly,” said Kathleen Sullivan, a member of the Democratic National Committee from New Hampshire. “It certainly would shake things up.”

Ms. Winfrey delivered a stirring speech about breaking glass ceilings, and calling the #MeToo anti-sexual harassment movement the heirs to the civil rights battles of the last century.

SEE ALSO: Ivanka Trump tweets praise for Oprah’s Golden Globes speech

“I want all the girls watching here, now, to know that a new day is on the horizon!” she said. “And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say ‘Me too’ again.”

Social media exploded and #Oprah2020 trended.

The enthusiasm even extended to the press, with NBC hopping on the bandwagon — at least momentarily.

“Nothing but respect for OUR future president,” the network tweeted, alongside an image of Ms. Winfrey. The network later pulled the tweet and blamed on a third party for its posting.

The political buzz spilled onto cable news networks Monday, with CNN devoting particularly intense coverage, reporting that Mrs. Winfrey, who launched Oprah Winfrey Network after being the queen of daytime TV, was serious about exploring a bid.

Democracy for America, a leading liberal pressure group founded by former Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean, even began fundraising off Ms. Winfrey on Monday, firing off an email plea titled “Oprah for president?”

In Iowa, Sean Bagniewski, chair of the Polk County Democrats, said his phone has been blowing up, with people wondering how they can entice her to test the waters.

Mr. Bagniewski said if Ms. Winfrey ran she would be considered among the top-tier Democrats in the Iowa caucuses, which kick off the nomination process.

“Folks across the country have known her for 30 or 40 years now,” he said. “She has lots of money and lots of good feelings from among both sides of the political spectrum.”

Mr. Baginiewski joked that the buzz presents some unique challenges — namely how to reach her.

“Nobody really knows how to get in touch with the Oprah mothership,” he said. “I put up a little beacon on Twitter that said Oprah Winfrey would be welcome in Iowa anytime.”

So far, just one somewhat major Democrat — Rep. John Delaney of Maryland — has announced his candidacy.

But a huge list of Democrats are eyeing the race, including: former Vice President Joseph R. Biden to Sens. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California.

Former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Rep. Eric Swalwell of California are also part of the conversation.

Ms. Winfrey, with her speech Sunday, made clear she could quickly tap the fundraising network in Hollywood to finance a bid, and she can reach social media in ways most of those other Democrats could only dream of.

Steffen Schmidt, political science professor at Iowa State University, said that a few years ago people would have laughed off the idea of a wealthy television personality, like Ms. Winfrey, taking the political plunge, but said Mr. Trump changed that when he won in 2016.

Mr. Schmidt said Democrats also are eager to nominate a woman without the baggage of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“Also, she has a HUUUUGE following which is what got Trump the nomination according to focus groups and polls, and may also have helped him get elected as a personality — not as someone necessarily taking specific positions on policy,” Mr. Schmidt said in an email. “Like Reagan she is a great communicator, great speaker, and can twang the hearts of people. Her cooking recipes are fabulous too!”

A Public Policy Polling survey of registered voters released last year found that Ms. Winfrey would beat Mr. Trump by 47-40 percent in a head-to-head race, with 12 percent of respondents undecided.

The White House said Mr. Trump wasn’t phased by the prospect of that showdown.

“We welcome all comers,” said Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley, ticking off a list of accomplishments Mr. Trump will take to voters. “We welcome the challenge, whether it be Oprah Winfrey or anybody else.”

Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist, said it is fun to imagine a race between the two media titans, but doubted Ms. Winfrey would risk a run.

“Don King and Vince McMahon couldn’t dream up a better political match-up if they tried in terms of the ratings,” Mr. O’Connell said. “Yeah, she has the money and the fame, but she is not going to be inconvenienced by this.”

Critics said the same thing about Mr. Trump in previous years — though the New York Democrat-turned-Republican had publicly flirted with a White House bid for over a decade, leaving some to wrongly conclude he was simply looking to bolster his brand.

Ms. Winfrey last year said she wasn’t thinking about a bid, but her longtime partner Stedman Graham told the Los Angeles Times on Sunday she “would absolutely do it.”

“It’s up to the people,” he said.

Ms. Winfrey has donated to Democratic candidates and causes in the past and endorsed Mrs. Clinton in 2016. But she did not campaign with her and has been less public about her politics than Mr. Trump, who in 1999 told television host Larry King that Ms. Winfrey — “I love Oprah” — would be his top pick for a running mate if he sought the presidency.

A big exception came in 2008 when Ms. Winfrey campaigned with then-Sen. Barack Obama in Iowa, where she was introduced by Michelle Obama.

“This is stepping out of the box for me, I have never taken this kind of risk before, nor felt compelled to stand up and speak out before because there wasn’t anybody for me to stand up and speak out for,” Ms. Winfrey said at the time. “Over the years, I have voted for as many Republicans as I have Democrats, I have voted for the man I vote for whoever I feel has the best opportunity to change our country. So this for me isn’t even about partisan politics.”

Ms. Winfrey, were she to run, could have the best chance of any candidate of putting together the hope-and-change coalition of minority voters, women and young people that powered Mr. Obama to two White House terms.

Even if she does run, it’s not certain Ms. Winfrey would do so as a Democrat.

“I hope she’s a Democrat,” said Jessica Vanden Berg, an Iowa-based Democratic strategist who said Ms. Winfrey would bring an exceptional amount of good will into a race. “You have to be really cynical not to like Oprah.”

“Nobody is going to go negative against Oprah — except Donald Trump,” she said.

Democrats on Monday cautioned against viewing Ms. Winfrey through the lens of Mr. Trump’s stunning rise, saying she’s actually his antithesis. They pointed to her philanthropy and longtime advocacy for educating women across the globe.

“There is a stark difference between Oprah Winfrey and Donald Trump,” Mrs. Sullivan said. “She built her own career through the television show, the magazine and the rest of it, where Trump is someone who was born on third thinking he hit a triple.”

• Dave Boyer contributed to this report

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