The calls for Winfrey, a cultural icon and friend of former President Barack Obama, to look hard at entering the 2020 race against President Trump revealed a longing among many Democrats for a global celebrity of their own who could emerge as their standard-bearer and his foil.
The clamor also exposed how the crowded class of Democrats mulling bids so far lacks a front-runner or someone who could easily unite the party's key coalitions of women, minorities and working-class voters.
"Lord, we need passion and excitement," said State Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, a prominent Democrat in South Carolina, one of the early voting states in the race for the nomination. "I know it's conjecture right now, but I'd ask her to give it serious consideration. If anybody could bring us together, it's her."
Winfrey's inner circle did little Monday to tamp down the frenzy. Her spokeswoman did not respond to a request from for comment, but several people close to Winfrey said she was keeping tabs on the news coverage and appreciated the response.
"She's overwhelmed by the groundswell of support, the absolute avalanche of hashtags and phone calls about running for president," said Richard Sher, a friend and former broadcasting partner who spoke with Winfrey by phone Monday.
She added, "If she set out to do it, she'd win. But at this point's it's other people, not her, that's talking about it. She's just taking it all in and happy that what she had to say struck such a chord around the country."
Stedman Graham, Winfrey's longtime partner who joined her at the Globes ceremony, where she was receiving the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement, whipped up speculation Sunday evening when he told a Los Angeles Times reporter that "it's up to the people" and said Winfrey "would absolutely do it," although he did not specify what she would do.
There were no signs, however, that Winfrey has done anything to formally prepare for a 2020 campaign or has spoken with Democratic operatives. Instead, her Globes speech was widely seen by Democrats as a visceral moment on the national stage that catapulted her into the discussion, whether she wanted to be part of it or eventually inches closer to running.
That view was felt not only among Democrats watching the Golden Globes and cheering her on social media, but among Hollywood players who immediately latched onto Winfrey's speech, putting Winfrey in the position of being courted by grass-roots Democrats and Academy Award winners.
Winfrey, tracing her path from her Midwestern roots to the pinnacle of the American media, drew ovations Sunday for her message of hope amid despair, generating praise from those working to counter sexual misconduct as well as, notably, from Democrats troubled by the Trump presidency. A speech without overt political notes became a political rallying cry in an instant.
Winfrey spoke with an impassioned voice of a "culture broken by brutally powerful men" and how "for too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dared to speak their truth to the power of those men. But their time is up. Their time is up. Their time is up."
Later, she added, "I've interviewed and portrayed people who've withstood some of the ugliest things life can throw at you, but the one quality all of them seem to share is an ability to maintain hope for a brighter morning, even during our darkest nights."
The 2020 calls came fast and fervently.
"She launched a rocket tonight. I want her to run for president," actress Meryl Streep told The Post Sunday. "I don't think she had any intention [of declaring]. But now she doesn't have a choice."
In Iowa, whose caucuses are traditionally the first contest in the battle for the party's nomination and have a history of thrusting unconventional candidates forward, talk of Winfrey rippled through the state.
"I can guarantee county chairs in Iowa would love to have a conversation with her," said Brad Anderson, who ran Obama's reelection campaign in Iowa in 2012. "People could be looking for an outsider who could heal the country, and if that's the case, I have no doubt that Oprah would be powerful."
Liz Purdy, who led Democrat Hillary Clinton's 2008 New Hampshire presidential primary campaign, said as long as Winfrey "ran the New Hampshire way and went to Main Street after Main Street," she could have a path to victory in the state. "If anyone could do retail politics right, it'd be her."
While the draft-Oprah buzz struck some Democrats as a red-carpet-turned-Twitter boomlet that could quickly fade, few veteran strategists were ready to ignore the talk about her among rank-and-file Democrats, especially after Trump, who is less popular than Winfrey in polls, was able to mount an insurgent, reality-television-style campaign and win the White House.
There were also questions about whether Winfrey, 63, a self-made billionaire whose groundbreaking broadcast and media career has made her an admired figure around the world, would ever be willing to take the plunge and enter a presidential race that could be polarizing and force her to tangle daily with a combative president.
"I have no doubt that she's filled with a desire to make the greatest possible impact in the world," said former Obama adviser David Axelrod, who heads the University of Chicago's Institute of Politics. "But whether she would want to submit herself and her brand to this process is a real question. Running for president is relentless, all involving, sometimes degrading and often annoying."
"There could be a backlash to Trump and people look for experience," Shrum said. "She'd have to show that she could formulate an economic message, assemble a top campaign organization."
In the past, Winfrey has said experience in elected office should not be a prerequisite for a role on the national stage.
"I challenge you to see through those people who try to convince you that experience with politics as usual is more valuable than wisdom won from years of serving people outside the walls of Washington, D.C.," she told a crowd in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in December 2007 while rallying for Obama.
Speaking to Bloomberg television last year, Winfrey said, when asked about running for president, that she "never considered the question even a possibility," but Trump's election prompted her to reconsider.
"I thought, 'Oh gee, I don't have the experience, I don't know enough,'" Winfrey said. "And now I'm thinking, 'Oh.' "
The crop of expected 2020 hopefuls, such as Gillibrand, reacted warmly to Winfrey Monday, seeing her not yet as a rival but as an ally in their effort to raise awareness of sexual harassment and assault, an issue that has upended the entertainment industry and prompted congressional resignations.
"Her voice is powerful and important and whatever she wants to do, she should do," Gillibrand said Monday in New York.
There have been many draft movements in previous election cycles that have fizzled, such as the highly-publicized push in 1995 among Republicans for Colin Powell, the revered general who was riding a surge of popularity from his leadership during the Gulf War. Powell declined to run and President Bill Clinton won reelection.
And, of course, Trump, a wealthy real estate investor who later became a reality-television impresario on NBC's "The Apprentice," had been wooed by some conservative voters going back to 1987, when he began to flirt with a White House run.
Part of Trump's unconventional political past includes Winfrey. During a 1999 push for the Reform Party nomination that never panned out, Trump cited her as someone he'd pick as his running mate. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaking to reporters Monday at the Capitol, said Winfrey could be a force in presidential politics if she surrounded herself with experienced advisers.
But she did not fully embrace the idea of her candidacy.
"I think one of the arguments for Oprah, is 45," she said, referencing Trump's celebrity appeal as well as his lack of experience in elected office. "I think one of the arguments against Oprah is 45."
Trump-aligned Republicans mostly shrugged off Winfrey. Jason Miller, a former Trump campaign adviser, mocked the notion of Winfrey and other celebrities jumping in the 2020 race.
"This is going to be a crowded Democratic primary: Oprah and George Clooney and Mark Cuban and Mark Zuckerberg and Dwayne Johnson, the Rock," Miller said. "At a certain point, someone's going to have to remind the Democrats running for president that Hollywood is not an early primary state."
But some Trump's critics on the right argued that Winfrey would immediately be a formidable candidate - and said they could support her over Trump.
"Oprah: sounder on economics than Bernie Sanders, understands Middle America better than Elizabeth Warren, less touchy-feely than Joe Biden," conservative commentator William Kristol tweeted, adding "#ImWithHer."
© 2018, The Washington Post
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
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