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Oprah for president? Speech sparks fevered speculation

  • Jennie Matthew

    Agence France-Presse

New York | Tue, January 9, 2018 | 08:20 am
Oprah for president? Speech sparks fevered speculation Actress and TV talk show host Oprah Winfrey poses with the Cecil B. DeMille Award during the 75th Golden Globe Awards on Monday in Beverly Hills, California. (AFP/Frederic J. Brown)

Could Oprah Winfrey run for president and beat Donald Trump? Hollywood, liberals and fans are abuzz with speculation that the billionaire chat show queen is harboring White House ambitions after an impassioned Golden Globes speech.

Winfrey had barely heralded a "new day" following a sexual harassment watershed, before calls snowballed for one of America's most famous women, a self-made tycoon born into poverty, to run for the highest office in the free world.

Hollywood's loathing of Trump and Democrats' bafflement that a crass-talking reality star with no previous government experience could win the presidency have fueled talk of well, why not another television star, only one with the "right" politics?

Twitter ignited, New York home-ware company Fishs Eddy sold out of a 2020 Oprah mug and Democrats championed her as preferable in every way to Trump, who himself named Winfrey as his first pick for vice president in an interview 20 years ago.

On board Air Force One, Trump's spokesman Hogan Gidley was grilled about the speculation by reporters travelling with the president to Nashville, answering that his boss would "welcome the challenge, whether it be Oprah Winfrey or anybody else." 

The only fly in the ointment? Winfrey's denial of any plan to seek office. "I don't, I don't," she reportedly said backstage when asked if she planned to run. "There'll be no running for office of any kind for me," she told CBS last October.

But CNN quoted two anonymous "close friends" as saying Winfrey was "actively thinking" about a presidential run.

Her longtime partner also suggested that she could be persuaded.

"It's up to the people," Stedman Graham was quoted as telling The Los Angeles Times. "She would absolutely do it."

"She launched a rocket tonight. I want her to run for president," Meryl Streep told The Washington Post. "I don't think she had any intention (of declaring). But now she doesn't have a choice."

If the speculation is wishful thinking, Winfrey's fame and wealth, extraordinary personal story overcoming poverty, child sexual abuse and pregnancy to build a $2.6 billion fortune and Oscar-nominated acting career, would stack up nicely in her favor.

"I slept on it and came to the conclusion that the Oprah thing isn't that crazy," tweeted Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior advisor to Barack Obama, the president whom Winfrey was credited with helping to elect in 2008.

'Float above Trump'

Bill O'Reilly, the former Fox News anchor forced out in disgrace by sexual harassment allegations and an early champion of Trump, hailed Winfrey as a formidable ticket.

"How can any politician attack Oprah, a feminine icon, human rights hero, civil rights champion and beloved human being?" he wrote in The Hill. "She would most likely float above President Trump's bombast -- coming across as positive and reasonable."

A March 2017 poll by Quinnipiac University gave Winfrey a 52 percent favorable rating compared to Trump's then 41 percent job approval rating.

Last September, Winfrey tweeted a New York Post editorial that trumpeted her as the Democrats' best hope of beating Trump in 2020. 

"Thanks for your VOTE of confidence!" she wrote. "You need a star," wrote the Post. "She can do it - in theory. The question is: Would she want to?"

Raised in Nashville, Milwaukee and Mississippi, Winfrey was raped and sexually abused as a child and became pregnant aged 14, but miscarried the baby.

After college, she went into journalism before reigning for 25 years as queen of the US talk show, ushering in an era of confessional television before becoming the first black woman to own a television network, OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network.

At the start of the Golden Globes on Sunday, host Seth Meyers playfully encouraged her to run against Trump. Becoming the first black woman to accept the Cecil B. De Mille lifetime achievement award, her speech wove together gender, poverty and race.

"For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dare speak the truth to the power of those men," she said to a standing ovation. "So I want all the girls watching here now to know that a new day is on the horizon."

Would the electorate be ready to put not just another television star but another political outsider in the White House?

"There's a feeling among many in the country that prior political experience is actually a deficit," said Cindy Rosenthal, political science professor at the University of Oklahoma.

But if politics is a money person's game, then the odds are still long.

"There is money around for Oprah, Michelle Obama and George Clooney -- but the odds suggest The Donald is going to be hard to beat," said Rupert Adams, spokesman for global betting chain William Hill.

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