The Note: Secret Weapon

It's been said before that the best thing about former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., is his wife. And even as her husband wraps up the "poverty tour" he hopes will reinvent his campaign, Elizabeth Edwards' sharp tongue is again dominating the 2008 race -- and that may actually be a good thing for the candidate.

In a jab that will be the subject of a good dissertation on feminism some day, Elizabeth Edwards posited that her husband -- not Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y. -- is the best candidate for female voters. "Sometimes you feel you have to behave as a man and not talk about women's issues," she said when discussing Clinton in an interview with "I'm not convinced she'd be as good an advocate for women."

Straight-talking spousal comments are often massively distracting to campaigns. (Imagine if Teresa Heinz Kerry had taken a swipe at Laura Bush, or if President Clinton were to argue that Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., isn't man enough for the job.) But whether it's her battle with cancer, her real-mom looks, or her general likeability, there looks to be little downside for Edwards in having his wife mix it up.

"Gender Bender," read the Drudge headline. The New York Daily News' Michael McAuliff saw Mrs. Edwards "trashing the New York senator as too quiet on feminist issues and too muddled on abortion." McAuliff noted that "the Clinton campaign declined to comment, although Clinton herself promised during her campaign rollout that she'd 'deck' any opponent who attacked her."

Edwards himself stood by his wife's comments, telling reporters in Pittsburgh, "Her point was on these big substantive issues that directly effect women's lives, I've been aggressive and leading on them, ABC's Raelyn Johnson reports. We'll be seeing more of Elizabeth, too: She is featured in a new TV ad airing in New Hampshire, where she talks about her husband's "unbelievable toughness," including his ability to "stare the worst in the face and not blink."

We hope his fortitude extends to bad poll numbers; the latest poll out of New Hampshire has Edwards in fourth place, behind Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M.

Edwards' chief rivals for the presidency, meanwhile, did the early-morning speechifying thing in the Senate. The sound of those ancient cots being wheeled into the Capitol last night may have drowned out the cries of the anti-war left for a little while. But Democratic congressional leaders are going to need much more than all-night speeches, quorum calls, and candlelight vigils to deliver even a sliver of what their base expects on Iraq.

Consider the state of affairs mid-way through their first year back in power: The US has more troops in Iraq than it did six months ago, and Democrats have no realistic prospects for forcing a withdrawal at least through the summer, if not for the rest of 2007. The Democrats are suffering from their own high expectations -- their approval ratings are lower than Bush's (though that tends to happen to congressional leaders), and they aren't ready to play the trump card the die-hard opponents are begging for: cutting off funding for the war.

Most importantly, at least in the short term, last night's Senate slumber party (pizza, fast-food chicken sandwiches, and all) doesn't appear to have changed many minds in Congress. With an 11 am ET cloture vote looming on the much-touted Levin-Reed plan for troop withdrawals, only three Republicans appear ready to join Democrats, leaving them well short of the 60 votes they need to break a filibuster, Carl Hulse reports in The New York Times. "Some Republicans who have gone public with their complaints about the war strategy also weighed in against the Democratic withdrawal plan as ill advised and driven mainly by partisan considerations," Hulse writes.

The stunt provided some memorable moments -- Clinton speaking on the Senate floor at 4:15 am (she couldn't wrangle a better time?); Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, wearing sneakers during a vote; Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., hopping behind the wheel of his Cadillac at 2 am (and forgetting, for a split second, to fasten his seat belt, per ABC's Z. Byron Wolf).

But Democrats need some kind of new play, and they risk enraging their base if they work with Republicans who have grown critical of the war strategy. They've been caught on defense at times in the past few days, and didn't quite know how to handle the politics of the new National Intelligence Estimate indicating fresh dangers from al Qaeda. "At least for the moment, the public relations and lobbying blitz by the White House has apparently succeeded, as even GOP supporters of the Levin-Reed amendment admit that there are not likely to be any more Republicans signing onto that proposal at this time, despite growing unhappiness within GOP ranks over the course of the war," Politico's John Bresnahan writes.

Don't put the cots back in storage just yet. "Democrats say every time they pressure Republicans, it has an impact, and this may not be the last all-nighter," ABC's Jake Tapper reported on "Good Morning America."

Also today:

Obama is also taking some jabs at Clinton these days -- albeit in far subtler ways than Elizabeth Edwards. "Obama is trying to turn heads with select jabs at his chief rival," the AP's Nedra Pickler writes. "Obama's criticisms of the two-term senator and former first lady have been regular but subtle reminders that for all his campaign money and promises of hope, he still trails her in most national and early state polls."

Bloomberg's Julianna Goldman and Kristin Jensen peek behind the Democrats' recent fund-raising successes and see the influence of big money men and women. "Wall Street donors are demonstrating their disenchantment with President George W. Bush and his policies on Iraq and the economy by giving more to Democratic presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton than to Republican candidates," they write. Obama is the top money target among leading investment banks, with Clinton No. 2, and McCain and former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, R-N.Y., in third and fourth place last quarter.

There's a political price for the White House in the intelligence estimate that finds a "regenerated" al Qaeda. The report "raised sharp questions about the success of its counterterrorism strategy and judgment in making Iraq the focus of that effort," The Washington Post's Michael Abramowitz writes. "These disclosures triggered a new round of criticism from Democrats and others who say that the administration took its eye off the ball by invading Iraq without first destroying Osama bin Laden's organization in Afghanistan."

Edwards wraps up his poverty tour today with a major speech in Prestonsburg, Ky., the same place that Robert F. Kennedy wrapped up his famous tour in 1968. He'll talk about "mistakes" in the 1960s-era war on poverty, including a "failure to reward work." "Poverty is not a New Orleans problem or a Pittsburgh problem or an Appalachia problem," Edwards plans to say, per his campaign. "This is an American problem. And it's America's responsibility."

Giuliani's name popped up in plenty of FEC reports -- and not just Giuliani's. The lawyers of Bracewell & Giuliani -- the law firm that bears the former mayor's name -- gave to Richardson, Romney, Obama, and Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn. "Nearly one-third of the firm's attorneys who made a personal contribution to a presidential campaign during the past three months picked a candidate whose name is not on their paychecks," reports Michael Saul of the New York Daily News.

Obama is set to get some more big checks, courtesy of the Oprah connection. Oprah is hosting a Sept. 8 fund-raiser for her favorite candidate, in California. "The workers at the Santa Barbara airport best rest up before the fundraiser; we're guessing the tarmac there is going to be packed with private jets," writes the Los Angeles Times' Don Frederick.

The Hill's Alexander Bolton and Brittney Moraski find some strategy in the spending numbers. Obama spent by far the most of any candidate last quarter in South Carolina -- with its large black population -- while Clinton and Edwards appear "less focused on South Carolina than they are on other early primary and caucus states."

McCain today will huddle with his House and Senate backers "to dispel questions over the long-term health of his 2008 White House bid [and] to reassure them that he is staying in the race," Roll Call's Erin P. Billings and Emily Pierce report. With no press office, sometimes you have to do your own PR.

The kicker:

"Literally having the Boston Globe as the only real legitimate newspaper, and you get all of your news media and information from such a liberal paper. It's kind of challenging," Ann Romney, managing to offend both of her hometown newspapers in a single sentence. She called her Midwestern-born husband, who has lived in Massachusetts for more than 30 years except for a stint in Utah, "a Yankee governor with Southern values."

"At this time, I do not know," Rep. Peter Visclosky, D-Ind., when asked on the House floor whether the Center for Instrumented Critical Infrastructure -- which is in line for a $1 million earmark -- actually exists. The House voted 326-98 to make sure the center -- assuming it exists -- is still in line to get the money.