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Ground Game

It’s hard to see how anyone could beat Oprah for the Democratic nomination. Here’s why

Oprah Winfrey has accepted a lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes by saying she hopes as the first black women to accept the honor, she hopes it has an impact on young girls watching Sunday’s ceremony.
Oprah Winfrey has accepted a lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes by saying she hopes as the first black women to accept the honor, she hopes it has an impact on young girls watching Sunday’s ceremony.

One can imagine Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren yelling “you go girl” to the television as Oprah Winfrey delivered a remarkable speech about race and the #metoo movement at the Golden Globes Sunday night.

But Warren’s next thought might be “wait, where is this going?”

As Warren aides map out how to put the Bay State senator in the best position to run for president a year from now, social media lit up Sunday night and Monday morning about Winfrey being the strongest Democratic choice to take on President Trump in 2020 instead.

It’s an idea that shouldn’t be dismissed, if for no other reason than Winfrey herself isn’t totally dismissing it. While she told Bloomberg right after the Golden Globes ceremony that she had no plans for a presidential run, her longtime partner Stedman Graham told the Los Angeles Times that if the people really wanted it “she would absolutely do it.” CNN quoted two people close to Winfrey who said the television personality was thinking about a run.

Forgetting the buzz for a minute, the reality is that an Oprah for President campaign is such a fundamentally solid idea, it’s hard to see how anyone else beats her for the Democratic nomination. Yes, really.


Let’s take a look at why:

Her profile

For starters, she has an amazing life story. From her humble beginnings to her ascension as a self-made global brand, she is the American dream personified. And let’s just state the obvious: Oprah is a one word brand like Madonna or, yes, Trump. That in turn gives her a name recognition (and ability to fundraise) that’s nothing to sneeze at.

Add to her background the simple fact that she is an African-American woman and you can see how a Democratic primary that just nominated the first African-American for president followed by the first female nominee for president would be over the moon at the prospect of Oprah on the ticket. Granted we don’t know a lot about her political views apart from being Barack Obama’s most prominent supporter. But as the Democratic Party moves to the left, Oprah appears to be progressive enough to satisfy that wing of the party.


Oprah also has a crossover appeal that’s hard to come by in politics lately. Her brand can transcend politics, with women of all political stripes long counting themselves as fans.

Even the most ardent Trump supporter will have trouble saying anything bad about her. That’s especially true when they learn that Trump not once but twice said Winfrey would be his ideal vice presidential candidate, first in 1999 when he was a potential Reform Party candidate and again in 2016 when he was running for president as a Republican.

Her narrative fits the moment

The discussion of Oprah as a presidential candidate comes amid the backdrop of the two biggest movements in progressive politics today: the black lives matter movement and the #metoo initiative. As she demonstrated in her Golden Globes speech, she can weave a personal narrative that roots her into the larger American story, while not making it all about her.

Some presidential years, a party might want a business person (Mitt Romney) other years, it might be a veteran (John Kerry), or a disrupter (Donald Trump). In 2020, Democrats are going to be looking for the candidate with the very best chance of beating Trump. That means they need someone with star power, but also the ability to appeal to folks across the political spectrum. Oprah may be the one candidate who fits that bill. There is also this: a Public Policy Poll last year showed her beating Trump 47 percent to 40 percent.


She may be the best option Democrats have

Finish this sentence: if Oprah ran for Democratic nomination she would have a tough time beating . . .

Among the 20 or so potential Democratic presidential candidates there is no one in her league. On Monday, the excitement surrounding her potential candidacy was palpable. Barack Obama’s former Iowa director told Oprah on Twitter to give him a call. New Hampshire Democratic Party chair Ray Buckley suggested Oprah’s potential candidacy would give people hope.

Of course for those who follow politics, there are some big names looking at a run (think: Warren or Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders), but neither of them have the star power that Oprah would bring to the table.

All one needs to do is look to 2016 to see what happens when a large field of candidates tries to take on one mega star for the nomination. Trump’s divisive style still beat out 17 other Republican candidates who found that all their years in politics couldn’t get them in the attention they needed.

Oprah’s reputation as a uniter -— not a divider like Trump — might even give her an easier path to win the nomination.

But it all comes down to whether she wants to run. She should know that while she is enormously popular now, those numbers would take a big hit should be become a candidate as seen through a partisan lens. The most recent example of this was the nose dive that Hillary Clinton’s favorability ratings took the moment she became a candidate.


And if it is power Oprah wants, then there is always this point from Huffington Post editor Lydia Polgreen to consider: “Oprah is already Queen she doesn’t need to be president.”

James Pindell can be reached at james.pindell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell. Click here to subscribe to his Ground Game newsletter on politics.