Oprahpalooza Hits New Hampshire

1197321251The Patriots-Steelers game wasn’t the only big event going on in New England yesterday. Last night the Oprah WinfreyBarack Obama tour wrapped up at the Verizon Wireless arena in Manchester, NH. Did the event create a new school of politics that relies solely on celebrity endorsement, or was it just politics as usual?

It’s hard to tell from the breathless media coverage we’ve read today, so we asked Obama campaign volunteer Marianne von Nordeck to give us her perspective on last night’s big show (while keeping the homerism to a minimum, naturally). It seems that while the media has downplayed the impact of celebrity endorsements on presidential campaigns, Oprah may already be paying dividends for Obama in New Hampshire.

Take it away, Ms. von Nordeck:

Last night, approximately 8,500 people arrived at the Verizon Wireless Center in Manchester, NH not for a concert or hockey game, but for a political event. It was a Sunday evening, the weather was bad, and the Pats were playing the Steelers, but two of the biggest names in the country were in town – Oprah and Obama.

I’m sure renting out the largest indoor venue in New Hampshire doesn’t come cheap, but it may have paid off for the Obama campaign. Thanks to the media presence and boost in momentum, the campaign garnered an influx of support in the week leading up to the event. More than 650 new volunteers signed up and over 2,300 New Hampshire supporters joined the campaign.

As tickets were snatched up rapidly and waiting lists were created, one of the big questions leading up to these events was: Are the audiences just going to see Oprah? Or are they actually there for Obama? The answer, I think, was a little bit of both.

Most of the people I posed the “Oprah or Obama?” question to answered that they wanted to hear Obama speak, but it was the bonus prize of Ms. Winfrey that drew them out. It was also apparent that some in the audience were not typically involved in the political process, which is what the Obama campaign was hoping for.

“This is an incredible opportunity for me to speak to thousands of New Hampshire voters who might not otherwise come out to a political event, and to energize the thousands of volunteers and supporters already working for change around the state,” Obama said before the event.

Introduced by Michelle Obama, a powerful speaker herself, Oprah explained why she had ventured outside of her “TV box” to publicly endorse a candidate for the first time. She told the audience that unlike other politicians she had encountered: Sen. Obama had “an ear for eloquence, and a tongue for the unvarnished truth” instead of the “veil of political rhetoric.”

When he finally took the stage, Obama joked that you knew it was a good event because he was the 3rd best speaker on the stage, but he took full advantage of his large audience, speaking for close to 40 minutes.

PHOTO: Marianne von Nordeck