The Note: Edwards under a microscope

There's been nice symmetry to the presidential race so far this year -- a Republican Big Three and a Democratic Big Three, creeping Tennessee shadows on both sides, and now a freshly independent certain mayor who can watch everyone tear each other up while prepping a check with 12 zeroes.

But what does it take to keep a spot in the top tier? Specifically, can former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., keep his perch as the viable alternative to the Democrats' formidable Top Two? Maybe Emma Claire was pointing us toward an answer yesterday. . . .

With roughly a week left in the fund-raising quarter, the buzz has rightly been on the stakes for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. But Edwards -- running third in the national polls, and slightly better in some early state polls -- has just as much to lose (or win) in the coming weeks. Perhaps no candidate on either side has done more to shape the campaign's early contours as Edwards -- particularly on Iraq -- yet that's not enough by itself.

The Edwards camp divulged in an e-mailed fund-raising appeal yesterday that they've raised just $6 million so far this quarter. Aides say that's two-thirds of the way to their goal, meaning they're on track to bring in roughly $9 million this quarter -- well less than their $14 million in quarter one, and far, far behind the fresh sums being raised by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., The Hill's Alexander Bolton reports.

As Edwards revives and updates his "two Americas" campaign message, he faces new questions today about the anti-poverty work he conducted between his presidential bids. His not-for-profit "Center for Promise and Opportunity" raised $1.3 million in 2005, and "the main beneficiary of the center's fund-raising was Mr. Edwards himself," The New York Times' Leslie Wayne reports. It paid for his travel to early-primary states before he was a candidate, and kept key aides in his orbit as he prepared for his 2008 run, Wayne writes. "The organization became a big part of a shadow political apparatus for Mr. Edwards after his defeat as the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2004 and before the start of his presidential bid this time around." Haircuts, houses, hedge funds . . .

The AP's Mike Baker has a similar take today "It's possible that the 'opportunity' the center was promoting was only John Edwards' opportunity — his opportunity to run for president," said Massie Ritsch, a spokesman for the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

That comes on top of the story that provided yesterday's biggest buzz -- has Edwards even lost the support of one of his daughters? Yesterday's Drudge headline suggested that 25-year-old Cate Edwards pointed to Clinton's picture when asked who her favorite presidential candidate was. The online furor briefly shut down the West Branch (Iowa) Times Web site -- and prompted a blogging response from Edwards' wife, Elizabeth. "It was Emma Claire, who pointed to a Hillary pin slyly and then, smiling pointed to her father. A nine-year sense of humor -- you would have thought Matt Drudge would have been able to pick up on that," Edwards wrote at, per ABC's Raelyn Johnson and Eloise Harper. Note to Elizabeth: Drudge usually wins these kinds of fights.

Campaign attention today settles on Charleston, S.C. -- at least four presidential candidates (including Edwards) and one candidate's spouse will be at the funeral for the slain firefighters. (What would the attendance have been like if this tragedy had happened in Kansas?)

On the Republican side, the story about former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney's seemingly overzealous aide isn't going away. The New Hampshire attorney general's office is now investigating whether longtime Romney aide Jay Garitty pulled over a New York Times reporter in New Hampshire on Saturday and said he ran his license plate for following Romney's car too closely.

And The Boston Globe's Stephanie Ebbert and Scott Helman report today that State Police in Massachusetts are investigating Garrity for impersonating a police officer in a separate incident. Garrity is part of Romney's inner circle: "As he did in the State House when Romney was governor, Garrity plays the role of gatekeeper on the presidential campaign," Ebbert and Helman write. It's all getting a bit more attention in New Hampshire than Romney would like.

Catherine Dodge and Henry Goldman of Bloomberg News look at one biographical element former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, R-N.Y., isn't mentioning on the campaign trail: the "headline-making moves" he made as a prosecutor fighting corporate criminals in the 1980s, when he nabbed financier Ivan Boesky and junk-bond trader Michael Milken. As a presidential candidate, Giuliani "has emerged as a top recipient of campaign contributions from the industry he once targeted," Dodge and Goldman write.

Obama's decision to release his earmark requests was "met largely with the sound of crickets from his fellow congressional candidates for the White House, none of whom as of press time had taken up the challenge and released their own," Roll Call's John Stanton and Bryce Bauer report. Among other '08ers now in Congress, only McCain does not make requests for special projects during Congress' annual appropriations process.

Obama hits the good-government theme at a 12:30 pm ET speech in Manchester, N.H. Aside from more public scrutiny of lobbying records and reining in no-bid contracts, no political appointee would be allowed to leave his administration and lobby the executive branch for the remainder of the his presidency. "I will make it absolutely clear that working in an Obama administration is not about serving your former employer, your future employer, or your bank account -- it's about serving your country," he plans to say, per excerpts released by the campaign.

But a not-so-clean "527" has launched to support Obama's candidacy in California, with a group of wealthy San Francisco activists hoping to raise $3 million to independently support Obama's candidacy, the Los Angeles Times' Dan Morain reports. "It is our hope that anyone who supports Obama does so directly through the campaign and not an outside group," campaign spokesman Bill Burton told Morain.

Also today:

A Congress that badly needs some accomplishments got one late last night, though the energy bill passed by the Senate doesn't do everything Democrats wanted. What it would do is require the biggest jump in fuel-efficiency standards in two decades, in "a major defeat for car manufacturers, which had fought for a much smaller increase in fuel economy standards and is expected to keep fighting as the House takes up the issue," The New York Times' Edmund L. Andrews reports.

Here's a novel argument: Vice President Dick Cheney's office doesn't consider itself part of the executive branch -- at least not for record-keeping purposes. (Maybe that's a relief to President Bush, whose No. 2 is one of the few politicians with lower approval ratings these days.) "Cheney aides have not filed reports on their possession of classified data and at one point blocked an inspection of their office," The Washington Post's Peter Baker reports. Cheney's staff even proposed eliminating the office that sought to enforce the rules, according to information uncovered by the House's main investigatory committee.

RIP GITMO? Not so fast, administration officials say, despite the Associated Press report that had the Bush administration poised to shut down Guantanamo Bay. It's being talked about, but "deep divisions remain" over how to proceed, The Washington Post reports. What would a shut-down do to Romney's plans to double its size?

The kicker:

"George Bush was the spoiler," Ralph Nader, continuing to talk up the possibility of another presidential run.

"I said, 'No, Harvey. I gotta do the right thing.' He understood," Michael Moore, explaining his decision to keep scenes in "Sicko" that portrayed Senator Clinton in a negative light, despite the importuning of Harvey Weinstein.