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Reagan, Schwarzenegger … Winfrey?

Oprah Winfrey at a campaign rally for Barack Obama. (Photo: Krista Kennell)

Will she?  Will she really?

“She,” of course, is Oprah Winfrey.  And after her thunderous speech at the Golden Globes last week, she’s become the latest California-based celebrity to be touted for high political office.

The man who is described as her “longtime partner,” Stedman Graham, has told reporters “She would absolutely do it.”

Her potential presidential candidacy acquired a form of legitimacy Tuesday when Donald Trump told reporters he would beat her if she were to run against him in 2020.  He also said he liked Oprah — the nation’s first female African American billionaire — and that the race would “be a lot of fun.”  Trump had even touted her in 2015 as a possible running mate.

Oprah, described by Forbes magazine in 2009 as one of the most world’s 20 most powerful billionaires, has not said anything about running for president.

But the man who is described as her “longtime partner,” Stedman Graham, has told reporters “She would absolutely do it.”

If she indeed did it, there would be headlines from Tracy to Timbuktu, but her candidacy would not be a world-changing revolution in American politics.

California celebrity/show-business figures running successfully for public office have been part of the political scene in California for more than half a century. It’s almost traditional.

There was Ronald Reagan, who spent eight years as governor and then eight years as president.  And don’t forget George Murphy, a fabled movie song-and-dance man (and friend of Reagan) who beat former Kennedy White House press secretary Pierre Salinger for the U. S. Senate and spent six years there before losing in 1970 to Democrat John Tunney, who died last week and was the son of former boxing champion Gene Tunney.

And, of course, Hollywood icon Arnold Schwarzenegger, who more recently went from movie star to governor in the 2003 recall election that ousted Gray Davis. Schwarzenegger, born in Austria of Austrian parents, would have liked to be president, but there was a problem: The constitution forbade it.

She provided a national platform on her television show for the anti-vaccine movement, and she has also done a show featuring faith healer John of God.

Oprah Winfrey has a number of homes, but the one she seems most attached to is an estate in Montecito, an ultra-exclusive community adjacent to Santa Barbara where the homes go by names. The community suffered deadly mudslides last week, and the devastated homes included Winfrey’s.

In today’s media-driven, celebrity-rewarding political world, the fact that Ms. Winfrey has had no experience in government does not seem to be a drawback.  It may even be an advantage.  Donald Trump, after all, was elected president with no experience in elected office.

Oprah would have baggage.  While not endorsing the idea, she provided a national platform on her television show for the anti-vaccine movement, and she has also done a show featuring faith healer John of God.

More in a mixed bag: “Oprah Winfrey’s storied history as a talk-show host, cultural icon, fake book promoter, advocate of mystical healing powers, fearer of hamburgers and apparent chum of Harvey Weinstein,” wrote Avi Selk in an analysis in the Washington Post.

“Oprah Winfrey is cool, but we need someone who really knows what they are doing.” — RoseAnn DeMoro

But she is beloved.  A Quinnipiac Poll in March 2017 said this: “American voters give Oprah Winfrey a 52 – 23 percent favorability rating, but say 69 – 21 percent that she should not run for president in 2020.”  That same poll showed Oprah with a 52 percent favorable rating compared to Trump’s 43 percent.

The speech and subsequent Oprah swoon has provoked a national outburst of punditry.  Chicago Tribune writer John Kass said: “… please don’t play the fool and say it wasn’t a presidential-ish speech because it was … It was a speech of a smart woman testing the presidential waters.”

The Post’s Eugene Robinson opined: “Response from the Hollywood luminaries who witnessed the speech firsthand inside the Beverly Hilton ballroom was little short of rapturous. For Americans traumatized by the Trump presidency, Winfrey’s address hit all the right notes. It offered hope — a commodity that has been in desperately short supply.”

Not so fast, was the reaction of one powerful California woman, RoseAnn DeMoro, executive president of California Nurses United. (DeMoro ranked 46th on Capitol Weekly’s 2017 “Top 100.”)

“Oprah Winfrey is cool, but we need someone who really knows what they are doing. We have to unravel a real disaster here … Ultimately, the presidency is a job. And you want your most qualified people in that position,” DeMoro told the Sacramento Bee. “Not the most popular. Not (those with) name recognition. You want depth and substance. Let’s talk about where this country is and needs to go.”

A backlash in favor of sobersided hopefuls with wonkish credentials is possible, of course.  And November of 2020 is a political infinity away. But whether it’s a three-day wonder or a lasting phenomenon, the Oprah-for-president idea is stirring even further the nation’s already-turbulent politics.

Who knows where it all might lead? Oprah has, after all, been endorsed by Lady Gaga.

 


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