Oprah Winfrey: Who is she and what are her political beliefs?

Fans are already pushing for a presidential bid in 2020

Emily Shugerman
New York
Monday 08 January 2018 23:20
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Oprah's Golden Globe speech: 'For too long women have not been believed'

With the way Oprah Winfrey’s name is being flung around this week, you’d be forgiven for thinking the television star had launched a new show or endorsed a new weight loss product.

She hasn’t. But she may be considering a run for President.

Support for a possible presidential bid erupted after Winfrey's rousing speech at the Sunday’s Golden Globes. The media mogul earned a standing ovation from her audience and a rash of praise on social media. After the performance, her longtime partner said Winfrey would “absolutely” consider a bid.

But the former talk show host has also shot down questions about running for office in the past, leading many to think it's not on her radar. So will Donald Trump be facing down a fellow television star in the 2020 election?

Here’s everything you need to know.

Oprah Winfrey arrives with the Cecil B. DeMille Award in the press room during The 75th Annual Golden Globe Awards (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

What is Oprah famous for?

Winfrey is best known for her eponymous daytime talk show, The Oprah Winfrey Show. The programme, which ran from 1986 to 2011, remains the highest-rated daytime talk show in American television history. It won the Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Talk Show 10 times before Winfrey pulled it from consideration.

The media mogul also launched several spinoffs from her TV show, including a monthly magazine and hugely popular book club. In 2011, the year she took her TV show off the air, she launched her own television network: the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN).

How did she become famous?

Winfrey was born in a small town in Mississippi in 1954. She was raised by a single mother, the family was poor and has spoken openly about her troubled past. In a 1986 episode of her show, she revealed she had been raped repeatedly in her youth.

Winfrey eventually earned a full scholarship to Tennessee State University to study radio and television broadcasting. She worked part-time at the local black radio station during college, and later became the first black female news anchor at Nashville's WLAC-TV.

The budding star hosted several different local news programmes before landing her own talk show in 1986. Around the same time, she scored a role in Steven Spielberg's film The Color Purple, skyrocketing her – and her talk show – to national fame.

Oprah's Golden Globe speech: 'For too long women have not been believed'

Why is everyone talking about her running for president?

Winfrey has hinted at running for president in the past: She recently retweeted an article calling her “Democrats’ best hope for 2020,” and said Mr Trump’s election made her feel more qualified to run than ever. But she has told interviewers she would never run for office, and played off her previous comments as a joke.

After Sunday’s Golden Globes ceremony, however, a presidential bid looked more possible than ever. The 63-year-old gave a powerful speech about sexual harassment, saying women had lived “too many years in a culture broken by brutally powerful men” and that “a new day is on the horizon”.

The speech brought her audience to its feet, and caused the hashtag #Oprah2020 to start trending on Twitter. After the ceremony, Winfrey’s longtime partner Stedman Graham told the Los Angeles Times that she would “absolutely” run for President.

Could she win?

With the question of whether America could elect a television star already answered, odds of a Winfrey presidency are already looking up. The media mogul has the funding and name recognition taken care of, and she may also have the influence: One study found Winfrey was personally responsible for more than 1m votes cast for Barack Obama in the Democratic primary.

Despite Winfrey’s popularity – she scored almost 10 points higher than Mr Trump in a favourability poll last year – most Americans say they don’t want her to run. The same favourability poll, conducted in March by Quinnipiac University, found 69 per cent of voters didn’t think she should run in 2020.

Policy analyst Sean McElwee put the odds of Winfrey winning at less than one per cent, owing to her lack of political experience.

“Democratic primary [voters] are far more rational than Republican primary voters, and want someone who can successfully navigate the intricacies of policy and balance the difficult demands of the broad coalition,” he said.

Oprah Winfrey rules out running for political office

What are her political beliefs?

Winfrey has largely stayed out of individual races, saving her endorsements for the most prominent, national campaigns. She was an early endorser of Barack Obama in 2008, and threw her support behind Hillary Clinton in 2016.

She also endorsed Democrat Cory Booker – a possible 2020 contender – for his first Senate campaign in 2013. She has donated to the Democratic National Committee and state Democratic parties as well.

Winfrey has shied away from discussing Mr Trump since he was inaugurated, but told the Associated Press last November that she thought he had turned a corner.

"I could sense, maybe I'm wrong, but I could sense from Donald Trump's body language even when he came out for the acceptance speech, that brotha has been humbled by this whole thing,” she said of his election victory.

She added: “I think it's a humbling process that now you literally have the weight of the world on your shoulders.”

President Trump waves to the media as he walks across the White House’s South Lawn

What has Mr Trump said about her?

Mr Trump, meanwhile, has widely praised his possible 2020 competitor. In fact, he previously said multiple times that Winfrey would be his first choice for vice president if he ever ran.

“I’ll tell you, she’s really a great woman. She’s a terrific woman. She’s somebody that’s very special,” Mr Trump told Larry King in 1999.

Fast forward more than 15 years, and Mr Trump was still singing Winfrey's praises.

"I think we'd win easily, actually," Mr Trump told ABC's George Stephanopoulos in 2015. "I like Oprah. I mean, is that supposed to be a bad thing? I don't think so."

Winfrey quickly shut down any running-mate rumours during the 2016 campaign, however, declaring on Jimmy Kimmel Live: ”Donald, I’m with her!”

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