The Note: Leftward Bound


As Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton returned to her corner and Sen. Barack Obama didn't quite retreat to his, former senator John Edwards was hoping to do something that's become his specialty in recent months: steer the Democratic field. (That's not a statement on his cycling talents, though there is an opening at the Tour de France.) Today, Edwards is hoping to do for tax policy what he's already done on the Iraq war, health care, and poverty -- tilt his rivals in his (leftward) direction.

While Obama leads the money race and Clinton racks up big margins in the polls, Edwards, D-N.C., has opened a commanding advantage in the race for ideas. Neither Obama nor Clinton is likely to want to trade categories with Edwards, but it does amount a strong rationale that could give Edwards' campaign some staying power -- enough, he hopes, to wait for one of the front-runners to fade.

Today's speech in Des Moines will broaden Edwards' appeal to the middle class with a call for a major restructuring of the tax code -- including ending tax breaks and loopholes that benefit the wealthy. This comes on top of Edwards' proposal to end the Bush tax cuts for those making more than $200,000 a year, to pay for universal health coverage. (That's right, he is campaigning for president on explicit vows to raise taxes, and he's not alone in the Democratic field.)

"This means that poor and middle class families who work hard, save, and do right by their families will pay less," Edwards plans to say, per excerpts obtained by ABC. "It also means that those at the very top, who have benefited from special break after special break during the Bush administration, will again pay their fair share."

Back to the Clinton-Obama duel -- which side is happier in the aftermath? Consider: Only one of the candidates has kept the fight going beyond the pages of the Quad City Times. ABC's Jake Tapper reports that Obama added a new line Tuesday evening at a closed-door meeting in Manhattan, where he sought to put the argument over inexperience to rest: "One thing I'm very confident about is my judgment in foreign policy is, I believe, better than any other candidate in this race, Republican or Democrat," said Obama, D-Ill.

And yesterday, Obama reiterated his comments about Clinton being "irresponsible and naive" to have voted for the Iraq war -- this time in front of a television camera -- while the Clinton camp stuck with paper statements from surrogates. "Having a presidential candidate actually make such a charge against another on camera lends it more weight than it carries in print," writes The New York Times' Katharine Q. Seelye. "It shows the candidate is willing to stand behind his remarks. And it can be much more compelling. . . . The question for the Clinton campaign will be whether Mrs. Clinton goes visual, too."

Keying off a different (and milder) debate exchange, Bloomberg News columnist Margaret Carlson saw Clinton mastering the art of "inauthenticity" on Monday night: "She absolutely doesn't admire and like very much Barack," Carlson writes. "In fact, Obama is the only candidate who gets under Clinton's skin, and the aftermath of a mild exchange at the debate shows just how much."

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