Oprah Winfrey Presents: Barack Obama

Waldo Johnson, director of the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture at the University of Chicago, said Obama doesn't need Winfrey for that; he's already done it on his own, particularly for people who "buy into the idea of a colorblind society."

With white voters, Sawyer adds, Obama has been effective at taking advantage of their openness to the "possibility of racial optimism."

"It's been an amazing way to connect," Sawyer says. He says Obama's message to them has been one that reinforces the idea that "if you're so optimistic about race relations and if we're moving in to this post-race America then you should entertain me as an effective candidate."

"Whether you are talking about a media mogul or a politician, their messages are such that they tend to address a fairly broad, aggressive kind of audience and don't speak in what we might call racialized terms or perspectives," Johnson said.

Winfrey is not one to use her "bully pulpit to articulate" matters of race, Johnson pointed out, often framing matters of race with a larger message of social justice.

"To some degree the same can be said for Obama," Johnson said, though it's "not to say that Obama hasn't been front and center on racial issues. They simply haven't been contained to that as other [African-Americans] who have sought the presidency."

Baum said Winfrey is not unlike former Secretary of State Colin Powell in that both are "not tied to race or ethnicity" but rather are products of "what you do, how you present yourself, and what issues you focus on."

Baum said those qualities apply to Obama as well. "Clearly, that's a part of his political character, the way he sees himself -- as the great healer. That's how he has situated himself and that's what he's counting on as being part of his appeal."

The notion of transcending race isn't one that appeals to all scholars. Sawyer believes when it comes to Winfrey and Obama, race is very much part of the equation.

"Part of being a black woman makes her accessible, is what makes Oprah real," Sawyer said. "Different viewers can take very different things from someone like Oprah, simultaneously a media mogul and a comforting black woman who comes in and helps a family sort things out."

"She's always authentically herself, authentically real and there's a space in people's minds to think of Oprah that way. Inaccessibility isn't a factor the way it is with Martha Stewart," he said.

Still, Sawyer said Winfrey's power will be tested in being able to reach both white and black women lobbying for Obama over Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.

Battleground 2008: Oprah's Audience

"This is where race matters," Sawyer said "because those same audiences might hear the same thing from Oprah but respond to very different kinds of things."

According to her company's Web site, women outnumber men in Winfrey's audience 19 to 1; the show draws around 50 million viewers a week.

Sawyer said Oprah can guide white women to Obama's positions on women's issues, giving him a chance to make inroads with women in the show's "suburban, professional, single" audience subsection, a bloc gaining significant traction as election day nears. Single women ages 18-40 make up 26 percent of eligible voters in 2008, for the first time in history equal in numbers to their married counterparts who are more likely to make their presence known at the ballot box.

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