Oprah throws house party to aid Obama bid
One of the big political questions of the hour is whether Oprah Winfrey can help turn Barack Obama into the first African-American president of the United States.
This weekend Ms Winfrey is throwing open the gates of her 42-acre Promised Land estate in Montecito, California, for her first political fundraiser. She will welcome about 1,500 guests to her home, sandwiched between the Pacific and the mountains, and expects to raise about $3m (£1.5m) for Mr Obama's already overflowing coffers.
By some assessments Ms Winfrey is already the most influential woman in the world: her daytime TV show, with 8.4 million viewers, is the highest-rated talkshow in history. She recently launched her own satellite radio channel. She is the wealthiest and most philanthropic African American ever, and her book club is a major force in publishing. In fact, there are many who wish Oprah herself would run for president, but she has already ruled it out.
In May she told her viewers that she was backing Senator Obama in what was seen as a major boost for his campaign. But she is now in talks about going out on the stump and bringing her extraordinary branding expertise to the Obama White House run.
Bill Clinton already adds a frisson of excitement to his wife Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign stops. The prospect of Ms Winfrey turning up with Senator Obama would broaden the appeal of his already electrifying public events.
This weekend could be the start of that beautiful friendship. As with most political events, the candidate will speak briefly and then mingle with the crowd. Only a select group of invitees will have access to Ms Winfrey, however, and her home will remain off limits.
Tickets are already sold out at $2,300 each, which is the maximum donation for Senator Obama's primary campaign. Hollywood stars including Will Smith, John Travolta, Jamie Foxx and Halle Berry are on the guest list, while the music legend Stevie Wonder and the gospel singer BeBe Winans are set to entertain the crowd.
When the party is over, the expectation is that Ms Winfrey will appear in television ads and make special public appeals, although representatives of both Mr Obama and Ms Winfrey have declined to comment.
"My money isn't goingto make any difference," Ms Winfrey recently told CNN's Larry King. "My value to him – my support of him – is probably worth more than any other cheque that I could write."
Oprah Winfrey first met Mr Obama and his wife, Michelle, before he ran for the US Senate in 2004, and they have remained close ever since. Two years ago, the Obamas were at Ms Winfrey's white-tie Legends Ball at her Montecito estate, when she suggested hosting a political event – something she had never done before. "I was saying wouldn't this be a great place for a fundraising," she recalled, "I said it jokingly."
Ever since, Ms Winfrey has been one of his mostinfluential supporters. She has had Mr Obama on her show (as well as Bill Clinton), she has featured him in her widely read O, the Oprah Magazine and in repeated public appearances she has spoken of his potential to transform America's politics. "For me, this was the moment to step up," she said in a recent radio programme.
TV show: 8.4 million viewers daily
Website: 2.3 million unique viewers per month
Magazine: 2 million readers a month
Newsletter: 420,000 weekly subscribers
Oprah alerts by email: 360,000 subscribers