Oprah/Obamarama in Des Moines

What follows below is a live blog of an event which culminated in this line from Oprah Winfrey, describing Barack Obama — her pick for president:  "He is the one."  (UPDATE: Audio of Winfrey’s speech. 20 min MP3)

"I thought this was a rally, Iowa," the lead singer in the live band "Faculty Lounge" here just told the crowd at about 2:45 p.m. to get them pumped up as thousands slowly file into the venue — Hy-Vee Hall in downtown Des Moines, a cavernous room that is filling up rapidly.

"Rock steady.  OH-bama," is what he is trying to get the crowd to sing underneath the lyric: "Celebrate good times, come on."

A roar just went up from the crowd when a couple of announcers asked the crowd if they were ready for Obama and Oprah.  The Obama folks say they handed out 12,000 tickets for this event, plus another 11,000 tickets were distributed on-line.  The tickets have a tearaway section as everyone is asked to fill it out so the Obama camp has their name, address, contact info. Dozens of Obama volunteers with clipboards are in the hallway outside, providing writing utensils and a flat surface for this purpose.

I know at least two people in the crowd who shall not be filling their tickets out and turning them back into the Obama campaign.  They’re Republicans.  "We just came to see Oprah," one of the women, who I know, whispered to me as she walked in, so don’t tell anybody.

State Representative Janet Peterson of Des Moines — the woman Hillary Clinton called when Peterson was in hospital in labor earlier this year — is standing here in the press section being interviewed by national reporters.  Peterson is among the 19 state legislators who have endorsed Obama.  "I don’t even know if I’ll get to see the stage," Peterson just confided in me.  The press area for those of us hacking away on laptops is behind the press riser, and we will not be able to see the stage. 

But Kathie Peterson (no relation) and Joy Esposito of Des Moines who came into the room together about 45 minutes ago will get to see the stage.  They’re precinct captains for Obama. About half of the tickets handed out of Obama campaign offices in Iowa went to precinct captains and to people who went to caucus training sessions the Obama campaign has been conducting.

"I’m here to support Barack Obama," Peterson told me.

"Not to see Oprah?" I asked.

"Well, I think this is going to be an exciting thing for his campaign," Peterson replied. 

Esposito added her two cents’ worth: "We are very excited to be here, number one, supporting Barack Obama, but to see Oprah as well.  We just think it’s a great benefit if she can bring people here and if they’re undecided or leaning and she gets them in the door and then they get to hear and be inspired by Barack Obama’s speech, that’s great.".

"And go to the Caucuses!" Peterson added.

As you might suspect, the crowd appears to be majority female.

"I volunteer for Barack Obama," said Taylor Bryant of Grimes, Iowa, who brought her mother and her aunt along today.  "It’s pretty cool.  I’m excited to be a part of this.  I’m missing my little brother’s birthday party to be here."

"I’m so proud of my daughter for campaigning for Barack," mom Jackie Sims of Grimes added.  "I think Barack’s going to go all the way, even without (Oprah)."

Mary Alice Wiliams of Des Moines was standing with a group of kids who’re part of the Iowa Youth Congress.  The kids and their chaperons had been given tickets to come today.

"I’m just really excited.  I got to go to the Steak Fry in Indianola and that was my first time seeing Obama and the other candidates, but this will be my first time seeing Oprah," Williams said, with a laugh.  "I’m excited about that."

Tom and Lynette Wall of Kimballtown drove an hour and a half to get here. They are precinct captains for Obama.  "I came to see Barack Obama and get involved in the political process and no, I didn’t come because she told me I had to," Wall said, pointing to his wife. 

Lynette, who doesn’t watch Oprah, describes herself as a "fan" of Obama.

"Should be a fun afternoon," Wall said.  "It’ll be interesting to see Oprah, too — a good combination."

At 3:32 p.m. the event got underway.  "Oprah and Barack couldn’t be here.  I’m going to sing for you," Michelle Obama joked with the crowd when she took the stage.  "…We have an opportunity to do something special, to bring in ledership that we haven’t seen in a long, long time, the kind of leadership that can inspire us to be a different kind of nation….that there’s more that unites us than divides and in order to bring about that kind of change we need the kind of leadership that can touch our souls….

"…My job today is very simple because my job is to introduce the woman who you are excited to see….She herself understands the beauty of this country….She listens. She engages in a way that is fundamentally different and we are honored to have her on our team…..The first lady of…," Michelle Obama tells the crowd as the cheering starts and nearly drowns out her introduction (plus the sound guy cut off the sound).

The recording of Aretha Franklin singng "Freedom" is pumping through the hall.  The crowd is roaring.

"Iowa," Oprah Winfrey says when she reaches the microphone, drawing out each of that word’s three syllables.  "Oh my goodness.  Hello.  Hello."

The crowd is screaming. 

"You know so much has been said about what my jumping into this arena….I’m going to leave that all up to the pundits…I understand the difference between a book club," Winfrey says, adding that this is a "critical moment in our nation’s history."

The crowd cheers.

"And so I bathed, yes I did, and I dressed to come out here for the same reason that I suspect you did, because I care about this country and as we were driving in today I said you have to care about this country to come out in this kind of weather….You love America, I can see that you do," Winfrey said, to applause. 

"….For the very first time in my life I feel compelled to stand up and speak out for the man who I believe has a new vision for America…I came here because I deeply believe in America and I think that we have a lot of work to do….I am not here to tell you what to think.  I am here to ask you to think, seriously," Winfrey aaid, as the crowd applauds.

Winfrey goes on to say this endorsement is not about partisanship.  "I’ve voted for as many Republicans as I have Democrats…This is very, very personal….about my personal conviction about Barack Obama and what I believe he can do for America," she said.

"…When you strip us all down, when you take away our race, our color,l our ehtnicity, our sex….we are American at our core," Winfrey said, to applause, and then she continued talking about the choice Americans face in this election. "…I came out in the cold to tell you today that I believe that choice needs to be Barack Obama…No, I’ve never done this before and it feels like I’m out of my pew….Back stage, somebody said, "Are you nervous?’  Damn right I’m nervous….Let’s dream America anew again by supporting Barack Obama."

Winfrey talks about several of the issues she sees as critical, then launches back into a testimonial for Obama:  "We need Barack Obama….I am so tired, I’m tired of politics as usual.  That’s why you seldom see politicians on my show….It’s really hard in an hour to penetrate that veil of political rhetoric but when you listen to Barack Obama you witness a very rare thing….We need Barack Obama."

"….Experience in the hallways of govt is not as important to me as experience on the pathways of life….I challenge you to think about that."

Winfrey drew another loud roar from the crowd when she praised Obama for opposing the war in Iraq "before it was popular" to take that stand.

"We need a president with clarity and conviction," she continued a few moments later.  "…We need a leader who shows us how to hope again…Just as Barack Obama has seized this moment and it’s a beautiful thing to see we also must seize this opportunity."   

She quoted the Bible and said it’s time to seize this moment in history.  "We must respond to the moments in history and Iowa, I believe that moment is now," Winfrey said, to applause. "…I’m here to tell you Iowa, he is the one," Winfrey says.  Then, she adds as a short introduction: "Barack Obama!"

The crowd’s cheering again. 

"How’s it going Iowa?" Obama begins.  "You know you’ve got a pretty good show when I’m the third best speaker."

Obama is giving a stump speech, including this line which drew a cheer from the crowd:  "Iowa, our moment is now."

He’s doing some of the same riffs he used on the night of the Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner.  "I need you to reach for what you know in your hearts is possible….an America that believes again.  Thank you all.  I love ya. Thank you."

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.


  1. Laura Fargey says

    I have always liked & respected Hillary Clinton. The way she handled her husband’s impropriety was with class. I find it ridiculous that people condemn her for her decision to stay in her marriage. She obviously has always known that her husband had a wandering eye; some women can allow this & do not feel that it is personal, but a weakness in a person that they love anyway. Even though I see Obama as a spokesman for change, I am a realist. He has chosen a sensitive issue that many Democrats and undecided voters are attracted to. Whoever is our next President has to work within the system, which is complicated at best & corrupt at worst. All of the prospective candidates address what their targeted constituency wants most to hear. I would vote for Hillary Clinton because I would like to see some BRAINS in the Whitehouse; she has a staggering intelligence, I believe Joe Klein, (TIME magazine) called it pellucid. Not that Obama does not have brains, but his smarts are different from Hillary’s, and his upward rise is based more on charm and his ability to deliver a marvelous speech than his intelligence and grasp of important issues. Also, as attractive as Obama is as a new direction, he may not be effective as President. It could be like Jimmy Carter again! I believe that Hillary would be able to handle the position admirably, & I firmly believe she would not have to depend on Bill. However, I would be happy if they did confer as Bill Clinton also has BRAINS. Lets get intelligence at the helm, PLEASE. The biggest obstacle is that Hillary has so many enemies and people within the party that seem to hate her, that she might not be able to swing the election. If the Democrats want to win the Whitehouse, they need to put the most electable candidate in the race. And this could be Obama. BUT IS THIS BEST FOR THE COUNTRY?