The Note: Fresh Starts

As Sen. John McCain looks for a new press staff, Sen. David Vitter looks for a new reputation, and all their colleagues look for a place to catch a nap (all-night session coming tonight on Iraq!), former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., is seeking a fresh start on the issue he needs to own: poverty.

Edwards' "poverty tour" -- with its pointed avoidance of early-voting states -- is one of the more interesting political plays of the year. As Edwards himself admits, building a presidential campaign around poverty is, at best, a questionable political proposition; poor people are unlikely to vote, and no one likes to think of himself as poor anyway. And if the nation is primed for a voting moment on poverty, is a wealthy trial lawyer the best-positioned to ride the wave?

The tour that wraps up tomorrow is as much about reviving Edwards as it is about the plight of the nation's impoverished: If Edwards does not change his campaign's narrative -- and he remains close to becoming a permanent national punch line for his tone-deaf displays of wealth -- it's hard to make an argument that Edwards will be positioned to break through in this field.

"Please stay focused on the stories we heard" from poor workers, Edwards admonished the traveling press corps yesterday. The response, as reflected in today's news coverage: "Edwards is trying to get past all the Richie Rich stories of his $400 haircuts and 28,000-square-foot house outside Chapel Hill, N.C.," writes McClatchy's Rob Christianson.

"Edwards has been unable to make much headway in part because of a series of controversies that cast doubt on the image he has cultivated as a millionaire lawyer who as the son of a millworker understands the plight of those with less than he has," writes The Washington Post's Perry Bacon Jr. ABC's Raelyn Johnson reports that Elizabeth Edwards was showing off her MBT sneakers to reporters on the plane yesterday; the shoes, which purport to reduce cellulite, retail for $245.

As for campaign poverty, that's primarily a Republican problem this cycle. The second-quarter fund-raising reports provide more evidence of the sea change that means Democrats now have greater financial resources than their GOP counterparts. Mid-way through 2007, no candidate is on better financial footing than Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., who has the most cash on hand (another sea change?) and the longest donor list by far.

And/but . . . it appears Obama's numbers are inflated through some "novel tactics -- like counting sales of $5 speech tickets or $4.50 Obama key chains as individual contributions -- [used] to pump up his numbers and transform grass-roots enthusiasm into more useful forms of support," David Kirkpatrick, Mike McIntire, and Jeff Zeleny write in The New York Times. "No other campaign is known to have listed paraphernalia sales as donations." What good rock star doesn't cash in on T-shirt sales at the concert?

Hmmm, lots of money, unproven viability . . . Now please welcome -- the Howard Dean comparisons! "He must turn the intense devotion of his backers into a force that can win primaries, expanding his base of support beyond the narrow band of Democratic elites who backed Dean," write Anne Kornblut and Perry Bacon Jr. in The Washington Post.

As for McCain, R-Ariz., he'd better hope that yesterday's mass resignation of his national press operation marks the end of his staff upheaval. (Among the many, many mistakes by McCain in this campaign: Letting the story of his lagging fund-raising and campaign reshuffling stretch two weeks now by handing reporters fresh ammunition almost daily.)

The Wall Street Journal's Mary Jacoby unearths one hint as to why Rick Davis was so eager to take over as McCain's campaign manager: "About 10% of the $11.2 million Mr. McCain raised from individual donors in the second quarter was spent or budgeted for two companies connected to" Davis. He's still owed $721,000 -- what better incentive to get the campaign to last a bit longer? By contrast, Clinton's and Obama's top strategists received about 1 percent of the money their candidates brought in, Jacoby reports.

It's not just McCain who has a spending problem: The top three Republicans outspent the top three Democrats by more than $20 million in the first half of this year, while raising $40 million less, USA Today's Fredreka Schouten reports. Blame the consultants: "The top GOP contenders spent twice as much to get advice on everything from raising money to public relations," Schouten writes.

ABC's Jake Tapper rounded up the spending and fund-raising on "World News" last night -- and reports on Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack (one of President Bush's top fund-raisers) signing on with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y.

No $400 haircuts have emerged yet from the latest FEC filings. But this one's not bad: former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., "recorded $300 in payments to a California company that describes itself as 'a mobile beauty team for hair, makeup and men's grooming and spa services,' " per Politico's Kenneth P. Vogel. The money sent to Hidden Beauty of West Hills, Calif., was recorded as "communications consulting," and the woman who made him up before the debate at the Reagan Presidential Library suggests that Romney didn't get his money's worth: "We basically put a drop of foundation on him . . . and we powdered him a little bit."

The first peek at former senator Fred Thompson's, R-Tenn., fund-raising and spending will come July 31, when "Friends of Fred Thompson" files an IRS report -- but not the FEC report that will be required when he finally makes his campaign official, per The New York Times' Michael Falcone.

Also making news:

Roll out the cots: The next volley in the political fight over Iraq will come in an all-night Senate session tonight, the first time such a maneuver has been used in nearly four years. "Reaching for a tried-and-true Senate practice, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, said he would force lawmakers to go on record in votes around the clock until a procedural showdown Wednesday morning on a proposal to begin withdrawing troops within 120 days, with most troops out by next spring," Carl Hulse writes in The New York Times. Republicans call it a stunt -- heaven forbid. Quite the coincidence, too, that will be rallying tonight on Capitol Hill.

Vitter, R-La., returns to work after reappearing with his wife at his side last night outside New Orleans. ABC watched Vitter's televised mea culpa in Los Angeles with Larry Flynt -- the man responsible for Vitter's public humiliation -- and found Flynt to be quite pleased with himself. "He established his credentials as the ultimate hypocrite," Flynt said, per ABC's Jake Tapper and Howard Rosenberg. "What was so sad about it, he had to do it standing behind his family. He used his family to try to make it go lightly into the fact that he used a hooker."

There are precious few ex-ambassadors who can offer an endorsement anyone will care about, but Clinton nabbed one of them yesterday. Joe Wilson, a hero to the anti-war left, has decided to go with Clinton in an endorsement the Clinton camp was so pleased with that they went straight to the blogosphere with it. Clinton "clearly hopes the Wilson endorsement serves at least the partial goal of winning over liberal activists and netroots types who might still be unhappy with Hillary for all the reasons you've heard repeatedly by now," Greg Sargent writes for TPM Cafe.

With help like this, why not endorse Clinton? Her major backers donated nearly $90,000 to former governor Tom Vilsack, D-Iowa, shortly after Vilsack dropped out of the presidential race and endorsed Clinton, the Los Angeles Times' Dan Morain reports. (The Clinton campaign also bought Vilsack's donor list for $20,000.) The cash helped Vilsack retire part of his $148,000 campaign debt.

Obama is set to pick up a decent endorsement of his own today: Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty. "The endorsement of Fenty, who is just coming on the national political scene, provides Obama with an energetic surrogate," reports Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Meanwhile, another chink in the Obama armor: ABC's Justin Rood reports on details of an obscure series of import-fee waivers Obama has secured for lobbyists during his brief Senate career. "Away from the bright lights and high-minded rhetoric of the campaign trail, Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., has quietly worked with corporate lobbyists to help pass breaks worth $12 million."

The kicker:

"Our marriage is stronger every day." -- Wendy Vitter, the senator's wife, who once said she's "a lot more Lorena Bobbitt than Hillary" when asked how she would respond to an extra-marital affair.

" 'Precipitous withdrawal' really worked." -- Bill Kristol, quoted by an eavesdropping Arianna Huffington, who said she overheard Kristol on an Acela train to Washington gloating that the term he had "come up with" helped the president buy time for his Iraq strategy. Next time, Bill, try the quiet car.