WASHINGTON -- The question of whether TV megastar Oprah Winfrey can help Sen. Barack Obama win some of the key Democratic presidential primaries was answered last week in South Carolina.
Sen. Hillary Clinton had led in the state for months, with Obama consistently trailing her but closing in. That all changed when Oprah flew in with the freshman senator on Sunday, Dec. 9, drawing a massive crowd of 30,000 cheering supporters at the University of South Carolina's football stadium in Columbia.
Veteran election watchers in the state said they had never seen such a turnout at a political rally in the state, and a post-rally poll showed that the most widely watched television star in America had effectively helped Obama move the numbers in his direction.
An InsiderAdvantage poll of 480 likely Democratic primary voters now puts Obama over Hillary by 28 percent to 22 percent in the state. Former North Carolina senator John Edwards, who had won the primary handily four years ago, was trailing in third place with 14 percent.
The strategic change in the primary's dynamics as a result of Oprah's visit was a surge in support for Obama among the state's large black vote.
"Obama's support among African-Americans rose a bit over the weekend while Clinton's dropped. This follows our (earlier) poll... in which there was a major shift in black voters towards Obama. Edwards lost a small amount as this likely shifted to undecided," said Matt Towery, chief executive of the Atlanta-based polling firm that conducted the survey.
Notably, the survey also showed that Obama's support among white voters did not change after the rally. Thus, Towery concluded, the shift showed that "the Oprah visit ... moved African-American voters."
Veteran political reporter Lee Bandy of The State newspaper in Columbia, and an InsiderAdvantage election analyst, confirmed, "these numbers are correct. There has been a tremendous shift in the black vote since last week, when people realized that Oprah Winfrey was coming to South Carolina. This is the first political event I've ever seen with 30,000 people and tailgaters."
The defining election issue in the Jan. 26 primary has always been who is going to win the black vote. In the beginning, Clinton was getting the largest slice of that pie because many blacks doubted that her chief rival had a chance of winning a general action. But Obama's sudden move to the head of the pack in Iowa and into contention in New Hampshire has begun to dispel those doubts.
Black voters make up about 50 percent of the Democratic primary vote in the state, and as Towery told me, "Obama is now leading substantially among blacks. Clinton's drawing them in the 20 percent range and Obama is close to the 50 percent range."