Obama courts Oprah fans

Iowa - Even before Oprah Winfrey had left the building at the weekend's big campaign rallies for Barack Obama, the candidate's team had begun an intensive follow-up effort - trying to turn tens of thousands of Oprah fans into Obama voters.

Celebrity endorsements are typically used by campaigns to draw large crowds and drive media coverage.

But the Obama campaign is taking Winfrey's support to another level by trying to reach everyone who came to see her within 48 hours and get them on board.

It's especially important in Iowa, where the race is tight and just about 7000 votes decided the winner in the last presidential caucus.

"This is going to be a margins election," said Democratic consultant Jenny Backus. "This race is going to go to the campaign that finds new voters to bring into the process."

At least 66500 people attended the weekend Oprah-Obama rallies across three pivotal states, the Democratic presidential candidate's campaign said on Monday.

Admission did not cost any money, but it was not free - everyone who entered had to fill out a ticket stub with information on how they could be contacted.

As ticket stubs were collected at the Iowa events on Saturday, they were sorted by geographical region.

After the rallies ended, volunteer messengers braved icy roads to deliver the stubs to 35 offices across the state.

Other stubs were scanned into image files and sent by way of computer.

The Obama campaign said 4250 people pledged their time in order to get priority tickets to the rallies, agreeing to volunteer at least four hours so they could get a closer view of the Chicago talk- show queen and her home-town senator.

In South Carolina, Obama's people said 68percent of the nearly 30000 people who showed up had never communicated with them before.

Each person who entered the stadium for the rally was given a list of four phone numbers and first names along with a script for them to deliver in calls they should make asking for support in the upcoming primary.

Jamal Simmons, co-founder of cellphone marketing firm Cherry Tree Mobile Media, said the calls and the campaign's pitch for audience members to sign up for text messages were smart innovations for a political campaign.

She said: "If they got half the people in that crowd to get out their phone and text a message, they got 15000 cellphone numbers that they can send texts to on election day telling them to vote, which is a pretty powerful tool."

Steve Hildebrand, a top Obama strategist overseeing the effort, said the events on Sunday in South Carolina and New Hampshire were followed by efforts similar to those in Iowa. - Sapa-AP