Oprah draws Iowa crowds for Obama


Thousands of fans of talk show host Oprah Winfrey or Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama - it was hard to tell which - filled an Iowa convention centre yesterday for the most-hyped event so far of the 2008 White House campaign.

Volunteers, Obama-backers and undecided voters in a crowd of around 18,500 cheered and craned their necks to see daytime TV star Winfrey take the stage with Illinois Senator Obama, a man Winfrey said would bring strength, conviction, honour and compassion to the White House.

"I'm not here to tell you what to think, I am here to ask you to think seriously about the man who knows who we are and knows who we can be," Winfrey said. "We need Barack Obama."

Mounting the stage in a dark suit and open-collared white shirt, Obama thanked the star for her support.

"I am under no illusions," Mr Obama said. "We've had some big crowds in Iowa ... but there's some people here who are here to see Oprah, and I'm a byproduct of that," he said, to laughs.

Families, college students and groups of women filed into the cavernous room to see the candidate and the daytime TV star who are both from Chicago.

"I wanted to see both of them, but Oprah sealed the deal, let's face it," said Des Moines administrative assistant Sarah Albracht (35), an undecided voter. Ms Albracht said Winfrey's endorsement might help convince her to support Mr Obama.

"I like the fact that she's been in every socioeconomic category ... both wealth and poverty, so yeah, her opinion means more than a lot of other people," she said

Polls show Mr Obama narrowly ahead of Hillary Clinton in Iowa but the New York senator leads nationally with strong appeal among women and blacks.

The rally's publicity may give Obama an extra burst of momentum in Iowa which on January 3rd kicks off voting to choose the Republican and Democratic candidates who will face off in the November 2008 presidential election.

A study by The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press on Winfrey's possible impact showed 17 per cent of women, 28 per cent of blacks and 26 per cent of voters between the ages of 18 and 29 would be more likely to vote for a candidate based on her endorsement.

While 69 per cent of those surveyed said Winfrey's choice would have no impact on their vote, 60 per cent believed it would help Mr Obama's campaign.