If Oprah Winfrey has her eye on the Democratic presidential nomination, she may be hard to beat.
The media mogul with worldwide first-name recognition fueled speculation about her prospects on Sunday after her rousing speech at the Golden Globes, announcing a “new day is on the horizon” for women. It didn’t take long for the hashtag #Oprah2020 to explode on Twitter or for the political world to take notice.
“If she decides to run, she certainly would be the top contender, no doubt about it,” said Democratic strategist Joe Trippi, campaign manager of Howard Dean’s presidential campaign in 2004. “All of the politicians who would think about running, she’d be one of the people they’d have to get past.”
Winfrey has rejected the idea of running for office in the past, but her speech seemed to have a 2020 ring to it. And her longtime partner Stedman Graham suggested on Sunday she might be up for it.
“It’s up to the people,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “She would absolutely do it.”
Winfrey, of course, has never held public office before. But in a post-Trump political landscape, that traditional path may not matter.
President Trump’s 2016 candidacy dispelled the notion that presidential candidates must serve as a member of Congress or a governor before reaching for the highest office in the land.
Winfrey clearly has a dramatic public influence already: Weight Watchers, whose stock has skyrocketed since she bought 10% of the company in October 2015, got another lift Monday. The dieting company’s shares jumped 12.2% in trading Monday to close at $52.62, up $5.71.
With her shares, Winfrey made a paper profit of more than $36 million from Friday’s closing price through the end of Monday. That’s a drop in the bucket for her net worth, which Forbes has estimated at $2.8 billion.
Like Trump, Winfrey would approach the electorate as a billionaire media celebrity with an intense following.
But some would argue the similarities end there.
“Oprah is a self-made woman, and she got where she is not by knocking people down, like Trump, but by building other people up,” said Stephanie Cutter, who served as President Obama’s 2012 deputy campaign manager. “She’s a celebrity, but most Americans think about her as family – she was in their living room for 20 years every day tackling tough issues and relating to people in a very real way. That means something.”
Trippi notes that low voter participation in the parties’ primaries have made it possible for outsider candidates like Obama and Trump to overtake those who are considered part of the establishment. The system of so-called “party candidates” started to lose strength in 2004, and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton may be the last of them, he said.
Even former Vice President Joe Biden, if he chooses to run, would have to pull in more than party insiders to win, he said.
“All this stuff about what people usually do is out the window,” he said. “Plenty of people love Oprah and it won’t take very many of them to make her a force in a Democratic nomination fight. Oprah Winfrey just fired a warning flare in the sky for anyone who still doesn’t get that the parties no longer control their own nominations.”
So far, Rep. John Delaney of Maryland is the only Democratic politician to have declared his candidacy for president in 2020, and it’s unclear what other big-name politicians may enter the race.
Cutter said it’s tough to say how Winfrey would fare against other candidates, since the field is wide open.
“But she’d occupy a very important space in the race that right now no one else could fill,” Cutter said.
Winfrey, who made history on Sunday as the first black woman to be honored with the Cecil B. DeMille Award, used her acceptance speech to highlight the “Me Too” movement and call for an end to harassment of women.
Some responded on Twitter with photos of Winfrey with film producer Harvey Weinstein, who has been accused of raping and sexually assaulting multiple women.
But Tarana Burke, founder of the “Me Too” movement, said on MSNBC Monday, “We need smart leadership and Oprah is the epitome of that.”
It’s possible that after Trump, voters may swing back to a candidate with more experience in government, said Jacob Neiheisel, assistant political science professor at the University at Buffalo. But presidential elections tend to be personality driven, and that could work in Winfrey’s favor.
“A candidate who can use media, particularly new media, and who already has a media empire might be able to make significant inroads in the electorate,” he said.
Winfrey campaigned for President Barack Obama in 2008 and later in 2016 for Hillary Clinton, calling her candidacy a “seminal moment for women.”
But she was definitive about her own lack of interest in the job in October when her best friend and CBS This Morning host, Gayle King, joked about the idea on the show.
“There will be no running for office of any kind for me,” Winfrey said.
But at least one Republican politician believes she’d make a good political candidate: President Trump.
He told Larry King on CNN in 1999 that she would be his “first choice” for a running mate if he ran for president.
“If she’d do it, she’d be fantastic,” Trump said then. “She’s popular, she’s brilliant, she’s a wonderful woman. I got a lot of things going, she’s got a lot of things going. It’d be a pretty good ticket.”