Second Thought: Thursday, February 25, 2004
Oprah for Vice President

The Dems could all have a good cry together - and then a victory party.

By Dan McGraw

I’m sitting in front of the computer, reading some long story in The New York Times Sunday magazine about how some black women in southern states aren’t real pleased with how the Democratic Party has treated them through the years. These black women feel that the Democrats take them for granted, only dropping by every four years to throw them a bone, then gone with the wind when the election is over.

While I’m reading this, the tv is on in the background. Oprah Winfrey is holding her afternoon court, and on this particular episode, country singer Wynonna Judd is crying about how fat she is, and how she can’t get through a day without a trip to the drive-through for some Popeye’s chicken. Oprah is holding her hand, Wynonna’s tearing up and complaining about how her relationship with her mother actually caused her to pork up. “This isn’t about food,” Oprah tells Wynonna sincerely, “it’s about lifestyle maintenance.” The audience oohs and ahs and cheers.

While I’m picturing Wynonna with a feed bag over her head — biscuits and gravy and chicken bones flying around — I go back to the article. In it, the black women say they are a huge swing vote, and unless they get some concrete results from voting for the Democratic presidential candidate, they might not be as enthusiastic in this election. In other words, they need a little more than the “let’s get rid of Bush” mantra. Maybe a real place at the political feeding trough where white men have always pigged out.

And then it hit me. The Democrats can win the White House, regardless of who wins the primaries — John Kerry or John Edwards — if they do one simple thing. They could seriously threaten George W.’s re-election if they put a black woman on the ticket as a vice presidential candidate. But they could make it a sure bet if they convinced Oprah Winfrey to be the VP.

Another crazy political notion, you’re probably telling yourself. Not so fast there, loyal reader. While Oprah may be a political neophyte, she represents the two demographic groups that are key to this election: black women and their white suburban counterparts. Women are more likely to oppose the war in Iraq, and women are more likely to have a handle on an economy that is making great gains in the stock market but producing little in the way of jobs.

When you look at the political calculus of the 2004 race, you realize the Democrats need the white suburban women to swing to Kerry or Edwards, but also need black women to come out in full force in the cities of the northern states and throughout the south. In the 2000 presidential race in Illinois, the white vote split evenly for Bush and Gore, but Gore’s overwhelming support among black women — 10 percent of all those voting — pushed Gore to victory there.

Black women vote in higher proportions than black men, and they tend to hold great sway within their communities. Political consultants call this group the OCBW’s — Older Churchgoing Black Women. This group votes Democratic almost in totality, but the key is getting out as many of them as possible — and the people they influence —on election day. “The challenge for the Democratic Party,” political consultant Yvonne Scruggs-Leftwich said in a recent interview, “is to keep these women committed.”

Whether they are the OCBWs, young female professionals, or the suburban soccer moms, Oprah would energize these voters. Political pros may scoff at her lack of political experience, but she has worked in the news media, presided over a tv and publishing empire worth billions, and held the hands of the many Wynonnas of the world. She is probably more qualified for the job than any of the white male political hacks the Democrats are likely to trot out.

In an interview with Larry King on CNN last year, Oprah didn’t exactly close the door on political aspirations. All she said to Larry was that her tv show was the “ideal forum” for her at this time. But what more can Oprah really do in her tv world? She has made billions of dollars, she always pops up on those “Most Admired Women” lists, and she has carved out her niche as a genuine pop icon for half of this country’s population. And she is in the process of making Wynonna slim again, no small feat.

In our winner-take-all electoral college system of choosing presidents, winning a few key states can push a candidate over the top. In 2000, Gore took California and New York, most of the northeastern states, a few of the industrial Midwestern Rust Belt states. All he needed to win were a few southern states like Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee. Those states have two things in common: large black female populations and large populations of suburban women of all colors who love sniffling through Oprah’s shows. She would bring both those groups to the Democrats in droves.

Some might think that choosing Oprah as a running mate would smack of political opportunism. Well, yeah — but what’s your point? My advice to the Democratic Party bigwigs is to get up to Chicago as soon as possible, hold Oprah’s hand, talk about “lifestyle maintenance,” and get her on the ticket. After that, winning the White House would be a realistic goal. And as vice president, she’d still have time to find good books for us to read.

Dan McGraw is a Fort Worth freelance writer and author.

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