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."

More today from the man who threatens to blow up the best laid plans of the various candidates: Mayor Michael Bloomberg, I-N.Y. He told ABC's Robin Roberts on "Good Morning America" that it's "just an accident" that he's visiting states that are important in the presidential race, and he moved just a smidge closer toward ruling out running for the presidency or the vice presidency. "I'm gonna fill out my term as mayor of the City of New York, and not run for president," said the new owner of "I plan to finish out my term as mayor of the city of New York and then go into philanthropy."

Also making news:

Congress took another step toward a constitutional crisis yesterday, with the House Judiciary Committee voting to hold White House chief of staff Josh Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers in contempt of Congress. It "sets the stage for what would be the first congressional contempt citation of an executive branch official since the Reagan administration," though it may do little to resolve the US attorneys mess that's being explored by Congress, Richard Schmitt reports in the Los Angeles Times. "Pathetic," White House press secretary Tony Snow says. Sorry, was that a legal opinion? You only have to work with these guys for 18 more months. . . .

President Bush plans to up the ante over Iraq and defense funding this morning with a speech in Philadelphia, ABC's Ann Compton reports. He will challenge congressional leaders to either pass the defense appropriations bill before the August recess, or to delay their planned August recess.

The bloodletting continues at Sen. John McCain's campaign. Now he's lost his top ad-makers, Russ Schriefer and Stuart Stevens, the duo that was charged with crafting the "McCain 2.0" brand. The Wall Street Journal's Jackie Calmes reports, "The two men told friends they had considered leaving for days, as they hadn't been paid and the campaign's financial straits raised questions of when and how much they would be."

McCain, R-Ariz., would love to have, say, Romney money, but he won't tap into the personal fortune of his wife, Cindy, to keep his campaign afloat. "I would never do such a thing. I don't think it's the appropriate thing to do," McCain tells Deborah Solomon in this weekend's New York Times Magazine. He also says he has no regrets about supporting the troop "surge." "You got to do what's right," he says.

What happens if, while you're testing the waters, your friends jump out of the pool and run home? Ask former senator Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., who lost another aide under puzzling circumstances: Research director J.T. Mastranadi quit after just 10 days with the (non-)campaign. The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder reports that Mastranadi told a friend he "was 'fed up' with the 'lack of structure' and was unclear about his role in the coming campaign." The campaign can label this typical pre-campaign restructuring, but does anyone doubt that there are some fundamental problems in Thompson's world (which may or may not stem from his wife's involvement)?

This won't help Thompson's standing in the GOP: He likes -- gasp! -- trial lawyers. "His work representing white-collar criminals, drug defendants and lawsuit victims has given Thompson an affinity with one of the Republican Party's perennial targets, trial lawyers, and he carries that connection with him even today as he prepares to seek the GOP presidential nomination," reports John Solomon of The Washington Post. "It also helped shape a view on lawsuit reform that has frequently put him at odds with his own party."

But Thompson could be getting some timely help from a big name: former House speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga. Gingrich has indicated that he's unlikely to run if Thompson does, and now evidence is emerging "of a possible Thompson-Gingrich alliance in 2008," Politico's Jonathan Martin reports. Thompson and his wife have recently dined with the Gingriches, and "some of [Gingrich's] closest advisers have been meeting with -- and, in at least one prominent case, going to work for -- the lobbyist-actor and former Tennessee senator."

Former governor Mitt Romney's campaign has found a category Romney is ahead in -- and the Romney camp is "just tickled" by it, Politico's Martin reports. Romney, R-Mass., has been the subject of 61 DNC press-shop attacks this year, according to the Romney campaign's own count; McCain is second, with 48. (So this is what all those staffers do over there.) Romney aides say this proves he's the most-feared candidate, though it's also remotely possibly that he's given Democrats the most to work with. The DNC let Carly Simon handle its response.

The Chicago Tribune's Mike Dorning and John McCormick explore the true strength of the Obama money empire -- and it's built on more than $5 key chains. "His campaign has built an old-school political fundraising machine that relies heavily on the wealthy and the powerful, including a Chicago-based hedge fund manager who earned $1.4 billion last year," they write. "The Obama fundraising operation provides a contrast to an image that the campaign has ceaselessly cultivated as a movement powered by everyday Americans."

Reid Wilson of Real Clear Politics writes up Clinton's outreach to the netroots -- up to and including communications director Howard Wolfson's decision to defend DailyKos on "The O'Reilly Factor" Tuesday night. "It was one of the last steps in a comprehensive outreach program to the liberal netroots that has won Clinton praise in the blogosphere, and one that has, for now, neutralized what might have been a powerful tool in the attempt to undercut the Democratic frontrunner," Wilson writes.

Obama seeks to one-up Clinton in the endorsement game today. Yesterday, Clinton accepted the endorsement of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., but this morning in Concord, N.H., Obama received the backing of a freshman House member who could be more important to a presidential campaign: Rep. Paul Hodes, D-N.H. He is Obama's biggest score in the Granite State, per The Boston Globe's James Pindell. (And it's an appearance before the cameras that provides another shot for Obama to continue his feud with Clinton.)

A few more Democratic candidates are weighing in on that debate question about meeting with leaders of rogue nations. "I've actually met a lot of these guys already -- I've met Castro, I've met Chavez," Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., told The Washington Post's Anne Kornblut. And don't leave out Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del.: "This squabble is a distraction from the main event: defeating the Republicans and ending the war responsibly," his campaign said in a statement.

The kicker:

"If any of these people don't think I drink a beer every once in a while, they would be wrong." -- Edwards, as photo-takers debated whether he should pose with a beer in his hand shortly before his Iowa ride with Lance Armstrong.

"If he doesn't sign the 9/11 bill, I'll sleepwalk my way to 2008. . . .It's game, set, match." -- Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., laying out the stakes for President Bush.

Next up: The Republican presidential debate August 5 in Des Moines, to be broadcast as a special edition of ABC's "This Week." Submit your questions for the candidates here.