From NBC/NJ's Aswini Anburajan
COLUMBIA, SC -- Oprah Winfrey took the stage at William Bryce Football Stadium to deafening cheers. Over 29,000 people filled the risers, some having driven from as far as Savannah, GA, to see her appear with Barack Obama.
At what was the third campaign stop Oprah has made with Obama this weekend, she praised him as an "evolved leader," pinning her desire to support Obama on his ability to inspire people.
"For the first time, I'm stepping out of my pew because I've been inspired. I've been inspired to believe that a new vision is possible for America. Dr King dreamed the dream. But we don't have to just dream the dream anymore. We get to vote that dream into reality," she told the crowd.
Oprah's speech were largely similar to the remarks she delivered in Iowa, but her words appeared more compelling against the background of a football stadium filled with people. And rather than delivering a long preamble on why she didn't think she could easily sell her fans on a political candidate she simply joked, "I got some sense, I know the difference between a book club and this seminal moment in our history."
Oprah's message was one of personal empowerment, similar to the stories she tells on her show everyday, telling the crowd that asking Obama to wait to run was the same as someone telling someone that they should wait to try and better their lives. It played well with the crowd here who shouted and applauded as she spoke.
Though the campaign came no where near filling the 80,000 seat auditorium, the atmosphere was infectious with Arrested Development and local bands playing, getting the crowd to sing and dance along.
Obama also had a fine moment, bringing thousands to their feet saying that it was time to "stand up" for change. The event ended with the crowd dancing along with Obama, his wife Michelle and Oprah.
But the pivotal moment for those watching came earlier, when Oprah ended her ringing endorsement by chanting "Barack Obama!" and dancing with Mrs. Obama on stage. Music from U2 swelled across the stadium, and Obama sauntered up to the stage, throwing his arms around both women and the three waved to the screaming crowd. It was a beautifully choreographed political moment, and the question hung tangibly in the air: Can Obama take a crowd like this, take the enthusiasm, the upswing that Oprah could potentially provide and turn it into a real victory?
In the lines outside, there was no question that South Carolinians were there to see Oprah, though many tried to stress that they were equally enthusiastic about just Obama rather than because he was appearing with Oprah. One older woman, Manatha Young from Columbia, said that she had been deciding between Hillary Clinton and Obama, but after Oprah she's looking more positively at Obama.
The majority of the crowd who attended was black. Among the white voters who attended, many appeared more reserved about openly embracing Obama because of Oprah or that Oprah would in anyway influence their vote. However, two young women did say that they were definitely more open to Obama because of Oprah's endorsement.
The campaign attempted to organize that enthusiasm by asking the crowd to text their cell phone numbers to the campaign. Jeremy Bird and Anton Gunn, the campaign's field and political directors, took the stage to ask the crowd to text their phone numbers to Obama's campaign. They also broke a Guinness World Record by conducting the world's largest phone bank, 36,426 people in the audience called four names of South Carolinian voters listed on the back of their tickets and asked them to support Barack Obama.
According to the Obama campaign, 18% of the first 8,500 people who signed into the event said they wanted to volunteer. Sixty-eight percent of people who got tickets online to the event had never been contacted by the campaign before.
A new MSNBC/Mason-Dixon poll shows Clinton leading Obama in South Carolina by three points, 28% to 25% -- a significantly smaller lead than she has had in recent months. Obama urged the crowd to believe that a black man could be president, but even those who have endorsed Obama have said that black voters will be convinced of his viability in a general election if he can win the majority-white states of Iowa and New Hampshire.
Whether Oprah Winfrey can assure that will be a question that only hindsight can answer. The Obamas and Winfrey left South Carolina for Manchester, NH to speak at the sold-out, 11,000-seat stadium there. That appearance will end a four-stop tour through Iowa, South Carolina, and New Hamphire and months of buzz and speculation. The campaign will not say whether Oprah will appear on the trail again.