The recent Barack Obama rally in Columbia, S.C., was the largest one so far in the 2008 presidential race, but most of the people weren't there because of the war or health insurance or the economy. They came to see talk-show host and cultural icon Oprah Winfrey. The "O Effect" brought out 29,000 to Williams-Brice Stadium.
On a whirlwind weekend tour of early primary states, she and Obama also spoke before record Iowa crowds in Des Moines (15,000) and Cedar Rapids (7,000), and Manchester (12,000), N.H.
Other than the huge crowd, the Columbia event produced little in the way of news for the 300-plus reporters in attendance. Some were reminded of a giant pep rally, complete with hip-hop and marching bands. Others, obviously college football fans, opined about all the empty seats in the half-filled stadium.
Some even discussed about how Obama may be "growing Southern roots" -- the Illinois senator seemed to be developing a drawl.
But more to the point -- did any of those 29,000 people come away from Winfrey's and Obama's lovefest any smarter on the real issues in the 2008 presidential race?
Probably not. That's because these kind of celebrity-driven campaign rallies generate too much light and not enough heat. The race for the world's most powerful elected office should be rooted firmly in substance, not in which favorite celebrity endorses which candidate.