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Winfrey could help Obama draw women voters from Clinton

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  • Oprah Winfrey will campaign with Sen. Obama in December
  • Popular talk show host will appear with Democratic candidate in early-voting states
  • Winfrey could help Obama close gap with Sen. Clinton by drawing women voters
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Political observers say Oprah Winfrey's decision to campaign with Sen. Barack Obama could help him make inroads into what many many consider Sen. Hillary Clinton's natural constituency: women.

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Oprah Winfrey, right, appears with Sen. Barack and Michelle Obama during a fundraiser in September.

In a move that may lead voters, particularly women, to take a second look at Obama, the talk show host will join the Democratic presidential candidate on the campaign trail December 8 and 9, Obama's campaign announced.

Winfrey will join Obama during campaign stops in early-voting states Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, the campaign said.

The appearances come just weeks before the crucial Iowa caucus on January 3.

"Oprah takes the idea of a celebrity endorsement to a whole new level. She's not just a superstar. She's a nova," Democratic strategist Jenny Backus told CNN.

"She's not just a Hollywood celebrity. In fact, she's really not Hollywood. She's like the voice of America. She is someone that more American women and men tune in to every day."

Speaking to reporters in Littleton, New Hampshire, Monday, Obama called Winfrey "a great friend," adding that "she is beloved across the country."

"Campaigns are not just about issues and policy but about bringing people together, and this creates excitement and an event and, hopefully, we can attract some people who might not otherwise be interested in politics," Obama said.

Obama, an Illinois Democrat, trails Clinton in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination by nearly 20 points in a national CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll conducted November 2-4.

Obama could close that gap if he gets more women, who make up between 52 and 54 percent of Democratic voters, to back his candidacy.

"Hillary Clinton simply seems to be the women's candidate regardless of race," CNN Polling Director Keating Holland said. "I think that's what Obama may really be trying to reach is women -- not white women or black women or any particular race, just women in general.

"Married women, women with children -- those are the ones who tend to turn out and vote," Holland said. "Those are the ones that have more at stake, so they're more willing and eager to go out and vote in primaries and the general election. That tends to be the Oprah audience."

In Iowa, Obama is in a statistical dead heat with Clinton and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll conducted November 14-18.

While Winfrey's campaign stops will generate interest in Iowa, political science professor Stephen Schmidt of Iowa State University doubts it will change the race significantly.

"Iowans never follow the lead of people who come and tell them how to vote," said Schmidt.

But, Schmidt said, Winfrey may generate a little buzz for Obama.

"It will keep attention on Obama, and people will ask why someone as busy as Oprah Winfrey is campaigning for Obama," he said.

Stu Rothenberg of the Rothenberg Political Report agrees that Winfrey is unlikely to change the overall dynamics of the Democratic race.

"I think certainly Oprah can get Sen. Obama some extra media attention, including on shows that don't normally cover politics. She can help him raise some money," Rothenberg said.

"But ultimately the Democratic race comes down to Iowa and New Hampshire and voters in those two states, and they probably aren't going to pay a lot of attention to her endorsement."

"It's a good endorsement, it's a plus," Rothenberg said, "but it's a plus only in the margins." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Mary Snow and Shirley Zilberstein contributed to this report.

All About Barack ObamaOprah WinfreyHillary Clinton

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