Starting Gate: Oprah -- The Stadium Tour

For this weekend at least, Oprah Winfrey becomes the Hannah Montana of campaign 2008. If you need an idea of the kind of excitement she might generate in her swing through Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina with Barack Obama, consider this: Due to demand, the campaign was forced to move the South Carolina event from an 18,000-seat venue to the University of South Carolina's 80,000-seat football stadium.

Politics and celebrity are never far apart, but this campaign is melding the two like never before. In an election season where the candidates are near-icons themselves – Obama Hillary Clinton, Rudy Giuliani – Oprah may be the only celebrity with the potential to outshine her candidate of choice. But the Oprah tour is about much more than celebrity. It's about women.

Clinton's once-large lead in the Democratic primary race has shown signs of slippage in recent days and nothing should concern the campaign more than the loss of support among women. In the latest Des Moines Register Iowa Poll, which Obama led overall, women voters abandoned Clinton in large numbers. The poll found Obama leading among likely caucus-going women by a 31 percent to 26 percent margin. In October's Iowa Poll, Clinton led among women 34 percent to 21 percent.

For a candidate who is widely seen as the first woman with a real chance of winning the presidency, it's a perilous development should it become a trend – and the Oprah tour is aimed at making it just that. Obama has generated the kind of excitement among young Americans that Howard Dean briefly did in 2004. But while young people may help give voice to a movement, they're not the most reliable demographic on primary and caucus day. Women, however, are.

Celebrity endorsements have always been a nice campaign accoutrement but don't do much to help the bottom line at the polls. Oprah, who has launched unknown authors to fame and fortune, might not be any different. But her stadium tour can't hurt – and if it gets even a small number of women in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina to stray from supporting Clinton, it could make a big impact in a very tight race.

Son Of A Mill Worker Returns: CBS New' Aaron Lewis reports John Edwards' visit to his hometown yesterday:

It's safe to assume that Seneca, SC has changed a lot since John Edwards was born there in 1953. Surely back then Route 123 wasn't cluttered with strip malls and restaurants and sporting goods stores like it is today.

But take a quick ride minutes away to Sirrine Street and you might suspect that hardly much as changed at all. The narrow road winds through the quiet mill village that's become so famous in the former senator's stump speeches in Iowa, New Hampshire, and beyond. Stop at the number 20: it's a small, old, boarded up structure sitting on top of a hill overlooking so many others like it. Its salmon pink color makes it stand out from the neighbors.

This is the home where Wallace and Bobbie Edwards, after borrowing $50 to release him from the hospital, brought baby John back for the first few years of his life. And Senator Edwards returned there today with his parents to remind reporters of his humble beginnings in the South.

"This is a big part of who I am and what I believe," he said as he stood in the home's side yard, the two proud parents standing behind him.

It was a nostalgic homecoming for Sen. Edwards, who was greeted just minutes earlier at an opening for a local Democratic Party office by 200 area residents who had no qualms addressing the hometown hero as "John" instead of "Senator."

"My grandmother lived right up the street here," he explained, pointing down the hill, "and I used to spend a lot of time at my grandmother's house who took care of us sometimes when my mother and father were at work."

He went on talk about his grandfather, whom he instinctively referred to as "Pa," and how he limped (Pa was paralyzed in one side of his body in his previous career as a professional boxer) to that same mill where Wallace worked every day.

"Sometimes," interjected the elder Mr. Edwards, "people with a pickup truck would offer him a ride and he'd get on the back of the pickup and ride home."

The image of Edwards and his parents talking to reporters in front of the boarded-up home was a testament to how far they've come since those early days. Wallace was dressed sharply in a buttoned-down shirt with a green sweater and corduroy jacket. The former senator wore a fitted blue shirt with grey slacks and a long dark overcoat. And Bobbie kept warm in a turtleneck sweater etched with the Ralph Lauren logo.

But those humble old roots are still very much evident.

"My wife and I both used to hang diapers out on a clothesline here," said Wallace. "We still use a clothesline. It's a good way to dry clothes."

Perils Of Office: Depending on travel conditions, Oprah may have to go it alone for awhile in Iowa this weekend if Obama decides he needs to stay in Washington for a vote that is important to the first-caucus state. The Senate may schedule a vote Saturday on an energy bill which would provide a boost for ethanol and biodiesel production – a major Iowa industry. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tells the AP any vote would likely be held in the morning, giving Obama time to be in the state for two afternoon rallies with Oprah.

Around The Track

  • A new AP poll shows Huckabee surging into second place nationally, now trailing Rudy Giuliani by eight points, 26 percent to 18 percent.
  • How did Romney's speech play where it really counts, in Iowa? Reviews are mixed.
  • While Romney is trying to reassure Iowans about his religion, a new flier released by the campaign tries to reassure New Hampshire voters about the former Massachusetts governor's views on immigration -- by depicting his opponents with black eyes, The New York Times reports.
  • One of the perks of being governor? Banning your least favorite food from the governor's mansion -- because you can. That's what Mike Huckabee did in Arkansas, as revealed in this look at the candidates' least favorite foods.
  • GOP activists trying to get a measure on California's June ballot that would award the state's electoral votes by congressional district won't make it, according to organizers.
  • Bill Richardson is getting an influx of help in Iowa – some of the staffers who work for the Governor of New Mexico are heading east to work for their boss in a different context.
  • Gennifer Flowers, whose extra-marital relationship with Bill Clinton nearly derailed his 1992 presidential campaign, says she may support Hillary Clinton for president. ""I can't help but want to support my own gender, and she's as experienced as any of the others."