Oprah 2020: Hot and getting hotter

Back in October, Oprah Winfrey was on CBS' "This Morning." She was asked about running for president -- or any public...

Posted: Jan 9, 2018 9:46 PM
Updated: Jan 9, 2018 9:46 PM

Back in October, Oprah Winfrey was on CBS' "This Morning." She was asked about running for president -- or any public office -- at some point in her life.

"There will be no running for office of any kind for me," she insisted.

Fast forward to Tuesday morning. Winfrey bestie -- and "This Morning" co-host Gayle King -- was asked by fellow co-host Norah O'Donnell about Oprah's interest in running for office in the wake of her much-praised speech at the Golden Globes on Sunday night.

"She loves this country and would like to be of service in some way, but I don't think that she's actively considering it," said King.

That position, King argued, was nothing different than what Winfrey had said last fall. "I absolutely don't think that her position has changed," King said.

That is, of course, wrong.

There is a massive difference between Winfrey saying late last year that she would never, ever run for office and King, who said she was up late Monday night talking to Winfrey, acknowledging that Winfrey "loves this country and would like to be of service in some way."

Now, King is Winfrey's closest friend and, therefore, shouldn't be expected to be a totally neutral source on all things Oprah. But, even if you read deeper into King's comments about Winfrey, it's clear that something has changed from the "never, nope, don't even ask" view she held in the past about elected office.

"I do think she's intrigued by the idea," acknowledged King. "I do think that. I also know that after years of watching the 'Oprah' show, you always have a right to change your mind. I don't think at this point she is actually considering it, but listen, there are people who have said they want to be her campaign manager, who want to quit their jobs and campaign for her."

I mean ...

Think of it this way. If King's goal -- as passed along from Oprah herself -- was to kill this speculation before it ever really got going, there's a very easy way for her to have done that.

It goes like this: I talked to Oprah last night. She's flattered by all of the attention and thrilled her Globes speech resounded with so many people around the country. But, she is a private citizen -- and she is going to stay that way. She is not now and will not ever run for president.

Done and done.

Except King didn't say that. Or anything close to that. Her comments fueled the fire rather than robbed it of oxygen. And that was, quite clearly, on purpose.

Now, here's the thing: None of the above means Winfrey is running for president. I absolutely believe King when she says that Winfrey is not "actively considering" the race.

But, "actively considering" is a very, very amorphous term. To my mind, active consideration would mean interviewing staff in early voting states, conducting baseline polling to see where you stand with the public and beginning to huddle with potential policy advisers to sketch out what sort of planks you would run on.

Oprah isn't doing any of that stuff yet. But, what she clearly is doing is thinking about whether running for president is something that truly intrigues her, whether what it might take to run and win is something she'd be willing to do.

Those sorts of preliminary thoughts -- and conversations with close and trusted friends -- are the sort of thing that lots and lots of Democrats are doing right now in advance of the 2020 campaign. Winfrey is rightly described then as mulling a bid -- in the same way that New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand or former Vice President Joe Biden or Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is.

What Oprah has that none of them do, of course, is total and complete name recognition due to her celebrity and unlimited personal wealth to help fund a race if she decides to do it. Because of those two things, Winfrey has the luxury of lingering far longer in this pondering stage than the other names mentioned above.

And the reaction to her Golden Globes speech has to give her pause when it comes to running.

"Let me be clear, if #Oprah throws her hat in the ring, she's the front runner for the Democratic nomination," tweeted Cornell Belcher, a prominent Democratic pollster, on Monday. "If she pulls together the considerable resources to build a top notch organization in the early states - after the South Carolina primary no one will catch her."

Given those sort of predictions, Oprah would be crazy not to move off of her "no way, no how" view on running in 2020. And Oprah is not crazy.

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