Manchester, N.H.-- The Oprahpalooza tour concluded here tonight in an event that was energetic, if not quite off-the-hook rocking. The night's emotional climax came early, with Michelle Obama's introduction of Oprah (see my not-quite HDTV video below), whose reception shook the house. Oprah opened by noting this was her first visit to Manchester--a funny reminder to politicos that, no, New Hampshire and Iowa are not actually the center of the world. Saying that she had "done my homework" and sized up Obama thoroughly, Oprah echoed the core campaign theme that Barack is a change agent who won't practice "politics as usual," and scoffed at the value of Washington "experience." "The amount of time a person spends in Washington is irrelevant unless that person is accountable for the judgments they made in the time they had," she thundered to loud applause. Obama's "wisdom," derived from varied real-world life experience, Oprah argued, should trump Beltway experience.
Oprah also cast Obama's candidacy in more racial terms than one generally hears from his own campaign. She said Obama "is not afraid to talk about what race means to this country"--although race is not among his significant (explicit) campaign themes. Recently I saw someone note that Obama rarely discusses the historic nature of his campaign--the possibility that he would be our first black president. (Hillary, by contrast, often plays up her gender.) But tonight Oprah ventured in that direction, declaring that, "There's a new day coming, and we can vote Martin Luther King's dream into reality." The (overwhelmingly white) crowd cheered vigorously.
Finally, another interesting moment that touched on identity: When he took the stage, Obama repeated a crack about Oprah's power made by a friend who'd joked that "If Oprah said, 'Kill all the husbands, the blood would be running in the streets.' Now that's power!" This prompted a bewildered look from Oprah, who turned up her palms as if to say, "What the...?" But Obama kept rolling. "I like strong women!" he continued, prompting another loud burst of cheers. If anyone noted the irony that Obama is running against the strongest woman in American politics, they didn't seem to care.
Addendums: Howard Feinman argues Oprah outshone Obama in South Carolina. I didn't quite see it that way, but it's plausible. Also, an Obama supporter takes issue with the notion that New Hampshire is "Clinton country," pointing out that the latest polling shows her lead over him here has been almost entirely erased. (Also, for readability I've moved the initial text from this item into an update in the one below.)