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Oprah 2020: Winfrey’s Golden Globes speech kicks off speculation about a White House run

It’s not a totally wild idea.

Oprah Winfrey at the 2018 Golden Globes.
Oprah Winfrey at the 2018 Golden Globes.
NBCUniversal/Getty Images
Emily Stewart covers business and economics for Vox and writes the newsletter The Big Squeeze, examining the ways ordinary people are being squeezed under capitalism. Before joining Vox, she worked for TheStreet.

Oprah Winfrey’s powerful speech at the 2018 Golden Globes on Sunday has stirred up speculation that the media magnate might make a run for the White House in 2020. And while Winfrey has denied harboring presidential ambitions, it hasn’t stopped multiple from observers from asking: Why not give #Oprah2020 a try?

Winfrey, a talk show host, actress, producer, philanthropist, and all-around media heavyweight, on Sunday delivered a moving address in accepting the Golden Globes’ Cecil B. DeMill award for career achievement. “I want all the girls watching here, now, to know that a new day is on the horizon!” she declared in a nearly 10-minute speech in which she threaded together themes of the historical struggle for civil and gender rights, her personal story, and a mood of optimism ahead. (You can read the full transcript of the speech on Vox.)

Winfrey’s address had more than one observer wondering whether Winfrey, 63, might have more than a television and film honor on her mind. Soon after her speech, NBC fired off an eyebrow-raising tweet reading, “Nothing but respect for OUR future president.”

(On Monday, the network removed the tweet and said it was sent by a third-party agency in reference to a joke made during the Golden Globes monologue.)

The network wasn’t the only one to pick up on the theme.

Winfrey was told backstage after her speech that “Oprah 2020” was circulating on Twitter and was asked whether she plans to run. “I don’t, I don’t,” she said.

Her longtime partner, Stedman Graham, was singing a different tune. “It’s up to the people,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “She would absolutely do it.” Winfrey’s best friend, Gayle King, said she thought Winfrey’s speech was “incredible” and gave her goosebumps.

Oprah for president isn’t the craziest of ideas

When you think about it, the idea of Winfrey making a run for the White House isn’t, well, out of this world. She would be 65 in 2020, several years younger than President Donald Trump. And if Trump’s victory taught us anything, political experience isn’t exactly a precursor for landing the top job in the United States.

With what Forbes estimates to be a net worth of $2.8 billion, Winfrey could potentially fund her campaign on her own — not to say that she wouldn’t have plenty of eager donors. (Former Office of Government Ethics Director Walter Shaub pointed out that whoever runs for the White House in 2020 should divest their assets, as President Trump has not.)

As FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten noted on Twitter, Winfrey is a popular figure. A 2017 Quinnipiac University poll found that 52 percent of American voters, including 72 percent of Democrats, view Winfrey favorably, versus 23 percent who do not, or just 7 percent of Democrats.

That being said, voters aren’t entirely sold on her making a bid for the White House: that same poll found 21 percent of voters want her to run, while 69 percent do not.

A study in 2008 found Oprah has plenty of political influence

Winfrey has proven to be a force in presidential politics in the past. While celebrity endorsements have historically been relatively ineffective in swaying votes, Winfrey has been the exception to the rule.

Her endorsement of Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary is estimated to have generated more than 1 million votes for Obama and increased campaign contributions and voter participation, according to research from University of Maryland economists Craig Garthwaite and Tim Moore. (Still, a separate Gallup poll found that most voters were not swung one way or the other by Winfrey.)

This isn’t the first time Winfrey has been subject to speculation that she might try her hand at politics — or fueled that speculation herself.

When asked by Bloomberg TV’s David Rubenstein in early 2017 whether she’s given any thought to running for the presidency, Winfrey responded, “I never considered the question even a possibility. I just thought, ‘Oh … oh?’” She said before Trump she didn’t think she had the experience or know enough to do it. “Now I’m thinking, ‘Oh.’”

In September, Winfrey promoted a column from the New York Post’s John Podhoretz calling her the Democrats’ best hope for 2020 from her Twitter account.

King, Winfrey’s best friend, said her comments to Rubenstein were “clearly a joke” and that she would never run. Winfrey herself told the Hollywood Reporter in a June podcast that she will “never run for public office.” And just because we’re talking about it today doesn’t mean the hype will last.

But Winfrey’s speech has certainly generated some buzz: Searches for “Oprah 2020” are now surpassing searches for “Trump 2020” on Google.

Update: Story updated with NBC’s tweet removal and explanation.