It's hard out there for a frontrunner.
Ask Mitt Romney (not quite closing his biggest sale).
Ask Hillary Rodham Clinton (three generations of Rodhams plus a former president do not an Oprah make).
Ask Rudy Giuliani (the new master of the deflecting laugh has sure learned to smile on Sunday mornings -- but did he create a fresh immigration issue for himself Sunday evening?).
Or, for that matter, ask Mike Huckabee (sorry, governor, but 1992 was not 1982).
Perhaps fittingly for this campaign that's burning through this holiday season, voters seem to be shopping without buying. Huckabee's recent stumbles aside, at this chaotic moment in the race for 2008, candidates who are selling hope (and Hope, Ark.) are looking stronger going into the final stretch before Iowa.
That's what made Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., one of Oprah's favorite things. By the Obama campaign's count, more than 66,500 people attended Oprah-Obama rallies over the weekend; two-thirds of those who showed up in South Carolina on Sunday "had never communicated with the campaign before, per the campaign.
In the Palmetto State -- where the battle for black voters is most intense -- the Double-O team drew 29,000 people to a rally on Sunday. New York Post cover: "OMENTUM."
Why put herself on the line like this? Obama "speaks to the potential inside every one of us," Oprah said, per The New York Times' Katharine Q. Seelye. "Dr. King dreamed the dream. But we don't have to just dream the dream anymore. We get to vote that dream into reality."
Sunday night, in New Hampshire: "I can feel that you are ready for a change," Oprah said. "Aren't you tired of the old way?" "Is he the one? I believe he is the one."
And in Iowa: "I am not here to tell you what to think. I'm here to ask you to think," Oprah said.
You can choose to believe or disbelieve whether it was a coincidence that the same weekend was chosen to debut Hillary Clinton's entire family. (Bill Clinton hits Iowa solo on Monday, and Chelsea dropped word that she'll be back in the Hawkeye State -- with her boyfriend -- before New Year's. What better venue to drop some big news?)
"Nothing is an accident in Hillaryland, and it worked," Kate Snow said of Camp Clinton's mom-and-daughter counter-programming on ABC's "Good Morning America" on Monday. "We're not just talking about Oprah this morning, are we?"
On the Republican side, the new Newsweek poll in Iowa lands Huckabee on the magazine's cover, with a 39-17 Iowa margin over Romney, R-Mass., that may be inflated, but surely shows something real.
"In Iowa, Huckabee's carefully cultivated persona as a kind, thoughtful man of unshakable faith is winning many converts," Newsweek's Holly Bailey and Michael Isikoff write. "Huckabee has gotten noticed in part by politely exploiting the voters' dissatisfaction with his rivals. . . . The way Huckabee sees it, all the attention—the good and the bad -- is a sign that he is where God wants him to be."
New York Times columnist Frank Rich sees Obama and Huckabee -- the two youngest candidates, and the two riding the biggest hot streak at this moment -- benefiting from similar dynamics. "Though their views on issues are often antithetical, Mr. Huckabee and Mr. Obama may be united in catching the wave of an emerging zeitgeist that is larger than either party's ideology," Rich writes. "An exhausted and disillusioned public may be ready for a replay of the New Frontier pitch of 1960."