To a campaign that's seen everything, toss in the woman who can do anything: Oprah.
There are endorsements, celebrity endorsements -- and then there's Oprah. Ms. Winfrey makes clear that Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., is one of her favorite things at this white-hot moment of the campaign, with a full weekend scheduled that will bring Obama some glitz, energy, and enthusiasm in all the right places.
No campaign surrogate -- up to and including Bill Clinton and Barbra Streisand -- can do what Oprah is poised to do for a campaign. And consider that Oprah -- unlike the former president -- will introduce voters to her favored candidate who aren't all that familiar with him (or all that convinced he's the right choice).
In South Carolina, an 18,000-person arena has been ditched for the 80,250-capacity football stadium at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.
In Iowa, two sites with 11,000-plus capacity have been lined up for the kick-off "Oprah-palooza" rallies on Saturday. "No free cars," Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs tells the New York Daily News' Helen Kennedy.
Kennedy: "But the Queen of All Media's first-ever foray into political campaigning is going to be one for the history and political science books, testing the limits of celebrity endorsements and setting primary-season crowd records."
In New Hampshire, Oprah's Sunday night rally is "shaping up to be one of the largest events in New Hampshire Primary history," Scott Brooks writes in the New Hampshire Union Leader.
The campaign has given away some 10,000 tickets, meaning "the crowd size will be comparable to concerts by Justin Timberlake, Aerosmith and Neil Diamond." (Don't forget we're talking about New England.) Verizon Wireless Arena spokesman Jason Perry: "There's that awe factor."
"She's going to electrify the campaign trail -- there's no question about it," ABC's George Stephanopoulos said on "Good Morning America" Thursday.
And how would this be for counter-programming: The Clinton campaign is "considering sending Bill Clinton to South Carolina a day ahead of Oprah Winfrey, to try and counter her effect," Stephanopoulos said.
"While Winfrey has never before endorsed a presidential candidate, her influence as a taste-maker is well-established," Bloomberg's Julianna Goldman writes.
"The Obama campaign's fondest wish is that Winfrey does for their candidate what she has done for products such as the Clarisonic skin-care system, sales of which increased 10-fold in just one week after her endorsement."
Per ABC's Nitya Venkataraman, "Her Midas touch saves names from anonymity, best sellers from dusty storerooms and favorite things from Internet obscurity. But as Winfrey has long chosen abstinence in the arena of political endorsements and campaign-trail theater, her capital remains untested. Until now."
"She's never endorsed a candidate before, so there's no data to compare," Jeffrey Weiss writes in The Dallas Morning News.
"On the other hand, there may be no celebrity more studied and analyzed by marketing and advertising experts. Their consensus: If any celebrity can jiggle the needle for a candidate, Ms. Winfrey is that person."
And Oprah's selling a product who's fairly good at selling himself. Obama's new ad is as simple as it is brilliant: It's an inspiring, rousing 60-second clip from Obama's Jefferson Jackson Day Dinner in Des Moines, perhaps the second-best political speech of Obama's career.
Obama: "I don't want to spend the next year, or the next four years, refighting the same fights we had in the 1990s. I don't want to pit red America against blue America. I want to be president of the United States of America."
"The contrast between Obama's 'movement' and Clinton's traditional campaign operation is implicit in the ad (the New York senator is not mentioned), but it is very real," Washingtonpost.com's Chris Cillizza writes.
"Clinton, by the very nature of her background and candidacy, is not capable of taking advantage of this unique moment in American political history, argues the ad. Only Obama can do it. Turning his campaign into a movement about something more than politics is the best -- and perhaps only -- path for Obama to win the nomination."
This is the kind of contrast Obama has in mind: On Thursday, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., called it "a 'mistake' for her Democratic presidential opponents to outline specific plans to shore up the federal Social Security program. Any solution, she said, would come from bipartisan compromise," the Concord Monitor's Sarah Liebowitz writes.
Clinton: "Most of my opponents are more than happy to throw out all their ideas." (Proposing ideas as a presidential candidate? The horror!)
And it's Clinton vs. Obama -- for a Grammy? In case super-duper Tuesday doesn't settle the Democratic nomination on Feb. 5, the Grammy Awards five days later could sort things out: both Obama and former President Bill Clinton have been nominated for the award for Best Spoken Word Album, ABC's Karen Travers writes. (And they'll have to beat former President Jimmy Carter, Maya Angelou, and Alan Alda.)
Grammy or not, the former president is ready to sit in on his wife's Cabinet meetings "only if asked." "And I think it would only be wise if it were on a specific issue. I think it's better for me to give her my advice privately most of the time," Clinton tells ABC's Barbara Walters.
Clinton says he would weigh in if he disagreed with a decision his wife planned to made as president, "but when she made it, I'd do my best to support it . . . I'd keep my mouth shut."
There are some smiling faces in Boston's North End in the wake of The Speech. Facing sky-high expectations, former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., appears to have met them with his address on religion and public life where he played salesman, theologian, family man -- and politician.
The role he didn't really play was that of Mormon -- he made just one mention of his specific faith. Addressing his personal faith, he said he believes "Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind."
"The passing mention of his Mormonism in his 20-minute speech here at the George Bush Presidential Library underscored just how touchy the issue of Mr. Romney's faith has been since he began running for the Republican nomination," Michael Luo writes in The New York Times.
"He and his aides agonized for months over whether to even give the speech, with those who argued against it saying there was no need to do it because he was doing so well in early voting states, advisers said. But the political dynamic has changed, with Mr. Romney's onetime dominance of the Republican field in Iowa faltering."
He looked and sounded the part: "The speech, delivered with soaring rhetoric and an air of authority, had elements that appealed to those who want a strict separation of church and state and to those who yearn for more religious values in what Romney called 'the public square,' " The Boston Globe's Peter Canellos writes.
"Yet the speech was aimed at neither of those groups -- or any particular coalition or bloc -- but rather at all the people of the United States. With its breadth of spirit, it was the most presidential moment of the 2008 campaign."
It was a deep, complex speech, with varied audiences. "Romney was equally emphatic in arguing that religion has a place in public life," Dan Balz writes in The Washington Post.
"Saying that the doctrine of separation of church and state has been carried too far, he said some people and institutions have pushed to remove 'any acknowledgment of God' from the public domain."
The Speech put all eyes on Romney in a way few other candidates can hope for, making him ABC's Buzz Maker of the Week.
The Des Moines Register's Shirley Ragsdale: "Most conservative Christian political activists and pastors who studied Mitt Romney's speech on Thursday addressing his Mormon faith agree it was something he had to do.
But few said it was strong enough to change the minds of evangelicals -- a powerful force in Republican politics." Rev. Frank Cook, pastor of Union Park Baptist Church in Des Moines, told Ragsdale that Romney "was doing the Potomac two-step around the issues that concern many evangelicals."
"Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's speech on faith was powerful and convincing, analysts said -- sincere, effective, hit all the right notes," the Los Angeles Times' Miguel Bustillo, Stephanie Simon, and Mark Z. Barabak write.
"But will it help Romney, a Mormon, win over the key voting bloc of conservative Christians? The broad consensus: probably not."
Former Bush faith-based official David Kuo sees a "one-paragraph gaffe" in Romney's efforts to emphasize beliefs he shares with evangelicals.
"In that single paragraph he blew his chance to slam the door on the pastor-in-chief idea because he was, consciously or not, making the theological argument that Mormonism was basically a part of historic Christianity," Kuo writes on his Beliefnet.com blog.
"It is, in the judgment of most liberal and conservative Christian theologians, not a part of historic . . . Christianity."
Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. agrees: "With those words, Romney legitimized the most fundamental test being imposed on him in some evangelical Christian quarters. He was telling them he deserved an 'A' on the religious exam they cared about most."
AP's Ron Fournier isn't sure that any speech can address the central concerns about Romney's candidacy: "Beyond explaining or defending his faith, aides said, Romney needed a high-profile event to show that he has a moral and political core that he's not somebody who will say or do anything to get elected."
He highlights this passage: "Americans tire of those who would jettison their beliefs, even to gain the world." Fournier: "This from a man who campaigned for governor of Democratic-leaning Massachusetts as a supporter of abortion rights, gay rights and gun control only to switch sides on those and other issues in time for the GOP presidential race."
And (perhaps interrupting Romney's run of good news) the "sanctuary mansion" storyline grows deeper.
"A Peabody company that painted Mitt Romney's Belmont mansion in recent months is under investigation by state authorities for dodging labor laws and accused of relying on subcontractors that exploited workers, including illegal immigrants," The Boston Globe's Maria Sacchetti and Connie Paige write.
"Romney's association with a second company with a tainted record, including allegations that it, too, relies on the underground economy that uses illegal immigrants, poses an awkward contrast to his increasing calls on the presidential campaign trail to curtail illegal immigration."
ABC's Jake Tapper on the first Mormon presidential candidate, who also happened to be the first Mormon: Joseph Smith.
"Smith directly pushed what he called 'theodemocracy,' the blending of religious belief and democracy. And his campaign was rooted entirely within the church that he founded," Tapper writes.
Timed for Romney's speech, former Bush strategist (and brand-new ABC News political contributor) Matthew Dowd pens his debut blog on the subject of faith and politics.
"As one looks ahead to the primaries and the general election, the candidate who best understands the importance of faith in households across America and ultimately demonstrates authenticity will likely be the one taking the oath of office in January of 2009," Dowd writes.
"In truth, for the average voter, Faith is often a more important factor than any economic calculus. And the high importance that voters place on authenticity when choosing candidate has its roots in an individual voter's spiritual underpinnings."
(More on Dowd's hiring, from The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz.
Dowd is "the latest member of the Bush team to embed himself in the media while their ex-boss still runs the country," Kurtz writes. Says Dowd: "I'm going to try my best to say what the truth is.")
Also in the news:
Hillary Clinton -- astronaut? That was her childhood dream -- until NASA dashed her hopes as a teenager. "They said, 'Be a man.' They said, 'We're not accepting girls.' And I was crushed. I couldn't believe it," Clinton tells ABC's Charlie Gibson for his "Who is?" series.
"To have my government tell me that there was something I couldn't do because I was a girl was shocking to me."
Now that she has a chance to run that very same government . . . "You know, some days -- let's just be honest -- it's scary, the idea of waging this campaign, getting out there, engendering all of the feelings -- pro and con -- that you do, because I'm neither as good, nor as bad, as my supporters and detractors probably think."
Former governor Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., is wrapping up a rough first week as a top-tier candidate. So what's next?
Time's David von Drehle looks at former governor Mike Huckabee's rise -- and his potential ceiling. "No candidate in either party has done more with less this year," he writes.
But "he is devoting precious days to raising cash outside Iowa, making it harder to win converts on the prairie. It is the old flaw in the Iowa breakout strategy: How can anyone survive the abrupt transformation from guerrilla to gorilla?"
USA Today's Fredreka Schouten: "What's unclear is whether Huckabee will have the money to advance his candidacy in New Hampshire's primary Jan. 8 or beyond, if he wins or does well in Iowa."
A rough stretch as well for the national frontrunner -- and the jaunt through his packed closet continues. "Judith Nathan got taxpayer-funded chauffeur services from the NYPD earlier than previously disclosed - even before her affair with then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani was revealed, witnesses and sources tell the Daily News," Michael Saul, Heidi Evans, and David Saltonstall report.
"When pressed by The News Thursday, aides to the Republican presidential hopeful conceded that Nathan got police protection 'sporadically' before December 2000 -- the previously acknowledged beginning of her taxpayer-funded detail."
The New York Sun's Nicholas Wapshott sees Giuliani having "lost momentum."
"Mr. Giuliani's personal issues have also worked to smother his appeal as the candidate with a solid record in government most likely to be able to beat Senator Clinton in a general election," he writes.
Could Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., be the beneficiary of the GOP turmoil? "All of that may be prompting Republicans to give Mr. McCain a second look -- particularly in New Hampshire," The Wall Street Journal's June Krunholz writes.
"He recently won the endorsement of the state's largest newspaper. And on a weeklong campaign swing this week, he is drawing capacity crowds at the diners and townhall meetings where much of state's campaigning takes place."
McCain's got the "Straight Talk Express," and former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., has the "Main Street Express."
And both have no shortage of press access. "Last week, the frequent press conferences with Mr. Edwards might have stretched the reporters' limits," Julie Bosman writes in The New York Times. Said Edwards: "This is going to be the shortest press conference ever."
Michael Dukakis is worried that Obama isn't building a stronger ground organization. "He said his wife, Kitty, an Obama supporter and contributor, routinely gets e-mails from the campaign asking her to donate more money, but the e-mails never ask her to volunteer to run a precinct for the campaign," Lisa Wangsness writes in The Boston Globe.
More campaign fodder from the Bush administration: "The Central Intelligence Agency in 2005 destroyed at least two videotapes documenting the interrogation of two Qaeda operatives in the agency's custody, a step it took in the midst of Congressional and legal scrutiny about its secret detention program, according to current and former government officials," The New York Times' Mark Mazzetti reports.
"The destruction of the tapes raises questions about whether agency officials withheld information from Congress, the courts and the Sept. 11 commission about aspects of the program."
Sorry, Tom Tancredo fans: He'll be the only Republican candidate not on stage at Sunday's Univision debate.
"I do not want to endorse the further Balkanization of American political life," Tancredo, R-Colo., writes in a Miami Herald op-ed.
Ron Paul is full of hot air. Wait -- don't overload the comments section! ABC's Z. Byron Wolf has the report on the Ron Paul blimp.
And don't miss the Glamour magazine's "Power Women" behind the big campaigns (and find out what brand of lip balm Jill Hazelbaker is obsessed with . . . )
"I thought I was well-suited to the time." -- Bill Clinton, on his presidency.
"I would love to see a woman president, I just didn't think it would be her." -- Gennifer Flowers, who's says she's considering supporting Sen. Clinton or Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., whom she calls "smart, sexy, and experienced."
"That just tickles me to death to know that." -- Former senator Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., reminiscing about Howard Dean's Iowa collapse in predicting a late surge for his own candidacy, to Radio Iowa's O. Kay Henderson.
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