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Oprah will campaign with Stacey Abrams in Georgia

Winfrey’s support helped Obama greatly in 2008.

Oprah Winfrey appears with then-Sen. Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle Obama, on the campaign trail during the 2008 Democratic primary in December 2007.
Oprah Winfrey appears with then-Sen. Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle Obama, on the campaign trail during the 2008 Democratic primary in December 2007.
Darren McCollester/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 will hit the campaign trail with Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams this week. If 2008 is any indication, her presence could actually matter.

Winfrey, whose 2018 Golden Globes speech ignited speculation that she might have political aspirations of her own, will campaign with Abrams in Georgia in the final days before the 2018 midterm elections. According to BuzzFeed News, Winfrey will join Abrams, a Democrat, on Thursday at two town hall conversations in Cobb County and DeKalb County and will be knocking on doors to try to get out the vote.

The Georgia race between Abrams, a former minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives, and Republican Brian Kemp, Georgia’s current secretary of state, is tight and intense. Cook Political Report rates the contest as a toss-up. It’s also become a battleground for voting rights.

If Abrams wins, she will become the first black female governor in the United States.

In the final stretch, a number of prominent Democrats are working to boost Abrams, including former President Barack Obama, who will campaign with her in Atlanta on Friday. Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) have made campaign stops for Abrams in Georgia as well.

But it’s Winfrey whose appearance history suggests could give Abrams a boost.

Oprah’s Obama endorsement might have delivered him a million votes in 2018

While the conventional wisdom is that endorsements typically don’t matter, including from celebrities like Winfrey, the billionaire media magnate has in the past been the exception to the rule — she appears to have made a difference for Obama in 2008.

Winfrey endorsed Obama in 2007 during the Democratic Party primary against Hillary Clinton, made campaign appearances with him, and donated $2,300 — the legal maximum at the time — to his campaign. Obama ultimately beat Clinton in the primary (and went on to win the presidency).

University of Maryland researchers Craig Garthwaite and Tim Moore estimated in a 2008 paper that Winfrey’s endorsement of Obama was responsible for 1 million additional votes for him in the primaries. They also found that Winfrey’s endorsement increased the overall voter participation rate and the number of contributions Obama received.

They found the so-called “Oprah effect” — the same thing that boosts the sales of books she recommends or products she endorses — also translated into support for Obama, and in a significant way.

It’s not clear whether Winfrey’s Georgia push will have the same effect for Abrams. Even when Winfrey endorsed Obama in 2007, most voters in a Gallup poll said they weren’t swung by her.

But votes, money, and voter participation — an area Abrams has focused much of her campaign on — are all things Abrams needs. The possibility of an Oprah effect couldn’t hurt.

“If you look at the commercial landscape of Oprah, her influence exceeds that of any other celebrity — perhaps in history,” Garthwaite, one of the researchers behind the paper, told Open Secrets in 2011.

There was a lot of speculation earlier this year that Winfrey might someday make a run for the White House. She’s said she has no interest in Oprah 2020, but there seems to be a place for Oprah 2018. This week, Winfrey tweeted a video of her and NBC News special anchor Maria Shriver encouraging people to vote.