The Reform Party's hostess

You may not think Oprah Winfrey has a shot at the White House, but three Minnesota Reform Party members believe she can go all the way— with the help of the Internet.

Bucking conventional punditry— hey, it worked with the Body— they're harnessing the Internet's increasingly proletariat power to butress the chances of the talk-show multimillionairess.

"A friend of mine in the Minnesota Reform Party called and asked who my wife and I thought could 'pull a Jesse' at the national level," says Willy Chaplin. Chaplin and his wife, Gypsy, have an extensive Internet presence and write a popular online Libertarian column, called How Can You Laugh at a Time Like This?

"He said that the rank and file in the local party was extremely unhappy with the prospect of Patrick [Buchanan] or Donald [Trump]. We thought about it for an hour or so, but the only name we could come up with was Oprah," Chaplin explains. "She is scrupulously honest, enormously popular, independently wealthy." After some informal polling around Minnesota, which found that perhaps up to 75 percent (especially service workers) would vote for her, the Minneapolis-based trio decided on Sept. 27 to take the campaign to the Internet (www.dreamagic.com/oprah/oprah.html), where Chaplin, a computer consultant, already maintains some 5,000 pages, including Web Poetry Corner, online backgammon and his wife's fitness site, the Gift of Youth.

"I do not think, and the polls support this, that anyone else would make a stronger top-of-the-ticket than Oprah," Chaplin says, adding that Trump "is less popular as an 'announced' candidate than Oprah is as a 'refusenik.' " His site now leads with an Oct. 11 ABC Nightline poll that shows Oprah drawing more support than Buchanan, Ventura, Trump or Beatty (and second only to Ross Perot in the Reform Party).

This Oprah for President coalition does not know the Mississippi-born talk-show hostess, but has attempted to reach her through her Web site's (www.oprah.com) e-mail links. A spokeswoman for Winfrey would not comment on Chaplin's site, saying only, "Oprah does not plan to run for president." Chaplin is not deterred. "In 'political speak,' " he said, "[that] usually means 'convince me.' "

Volunteers from 22 states have signed up on the site to work for the Winfrey campaign. "The Oprah for President site is our most popular site, eclipsing those that have been live for five years," Chaplin says.

The Oprah site isn't the first time Chaplin's family has drawn attention for its geeky tendencies. His son Roger Davidson (now 20) was the well-known (in Internet circles) Teen Movie Critic, who had a loyal following on the Web from 1995 to 1997. He was featured in People magazine, and debated the film Clueless with critic Roger Ebert on a Minneapolis radio show. However, his reviewing career came to an abrupt halt in 1997 after he was accused of plagiarizing Leonard Maltin. After that, the home-schooled Davidson retired from the Internet and has worked as a grocery-store clerk, a prep cook, and now in a book warehouse. "He still wants to write," his dad says, "but feels he needs more experience in the 'real world' first as opposed to his unusually heavy grounding in cyberspace."

As for the rest of his family— 10 children— most are not tech savvy. "Our kids are a bunch of Luddites. Only half are even on the Internet. Ah, but the grandchildren . . . " They are, however, a diverse group, with many "partly nonwhite," he explains. Thus, a primary reason for Chaplin's Winfrey conviction: "What the election of Oprah as the first chief executive of the third millennium would do for them and the rest of the world gives us the shivers," he says. "We are talking history here."

 
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