The Note: Pre-Rumble Dance

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As we learn not to mess with Rudolph Giuliani's family -- and as Bill Richardson learns that what happens in Vegas only stays in Vegas until an opposition-researcher finds out about it -- consider the lay of the (heady) Democratic land as we head into Sunday's debate on ABC:

If the three leading candidates have anything to do with it (and here's betting they will), the fight for the Democratic presidential nomination will be waged at the peculiar, uneasy nexus of experience, electability, and revolution. It's with varying doses of those three elements that the frontrunners are pursuing very different paths to the nomination -- and are tangling with each other in this newly aggressive phase of the campaign.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., is heaviest on the first quality -- while her opponents portray her as a polarizing creature of the establishment. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., can't claim experience, but he's by nature a consensus-builder, and a true outsider.

And it's the candidate who has most on the line at ABC's debate this weekend -- because he has the most riding on Iowa, where his lead has slipped -- who offers the most intriguing (and explosive) mix of the three key characteristics. Former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., is the original Hurricane Dean (as in Howard), challenging Obama on experience, Clinton on electability, and vowing to blow up the Washington system that he portrays as fatally flawed.

That's what Edwards was getting at yesterday when he challenged Obama to join him in calling for the entire Democratic Party to reject lobbyists' donations. And it's the message of the "Fighting for America" campaign bus that's winding its way 31 cities and towns in Iowa this week. "Washington needs change, serious change, and in a really big way, not in a small way," Edwards said yesterday. "I'm that guy [to make it happen.]"

Yet every time Edwards seems to hit his rhetorical stride, another story like this pops up: The Wall Street Journal's Christopher Cooper reports that 34 New Orleans homes have had their owners face "foreclosure suits from subprime-lending units of Fortress Investment Group LLC." That would be the same hedge fund Edwards worked for in 2005 and 2006 -- and that he still has $16 million invested in. Edwards told Cooper that he would personally provide financial assistance to Hurricane Katrina victims who are in danger of losing their homes because of Fortress' actions, and said he will rid his portfolio of any Fortress funds that file foreclosures.

And Obama isn't ready to cede Edwards any ground on the agent-of-change front. He may be brushing aside Edwards' latest ploy on lobbyists' donations, but he is also strengthening the words he has for his rivals. Obama has begun "to sharpen his tone noticeably as he fights for the Democratic presidential nomination, increasingly drawing sharp contrasts with his rivals and seeking to turn criticism of his foreign policy credentials into a fresh argument for change," writes The New York Times' Jeff Zeleny. "The recalibration of the campaign is a marked departure from a laid-back tone Mr. Obama often had taken in the first six months of his candidacy."

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