Then, too, there’s the matter of Edwards’s wife, Elizabeth, who was diagnosed with breast cancer the day after the 2004 presidential election. During his New Hampshire swing, Edwards started his speeches by announcing that Elizabeth was recently declared cancer-free. His audiences — particularly the women — responded with beaming smiles and applause. During the ’04 campaign, one woman I know was impressed by Edwards’s obvious attachment to Elizabeth, who, though not unattractive, can’t match her husband in the good-looks department. A few days ago, I told my mother that I’d seen Edwards in New Hampshire, and that he’d relayed Elizabeth’s prognosis. Her response: “She seems like such a sweet woman!” Simply put, Elizabeth Edwards — and John Edwards’s relationship with her — will be a major asset as John Edwards tries to wrest the Democratic nomination from Hillary Clinton. It’s surely no accident that Saving Graces: Finding Solace and Strength from Friends and Strangers, Elizabeth’s memoir, is slated for publication this September.
The New Hampsherites who caught Edwards’s act last weekend weren’t ready to anoint him the permanent anti-Hillary just yet. “I think he’s a very attractive candidate; I think he’s very articulate,” one man said at a fundraiser in Cornish, near the Vermont border. “The second time around is harder than the first time around. He was part of the losing team. I don’t think it’s a major thing, but it is a negative.” At the same event, a second skeptic called Edwards’s fixation on poverty commendable but politically dubious, and suggested he might be a good Secretary of Health and Human Services. (When I asked Edwards about Americans’ apparent apathy about poverty in their midst, he had this to say: “I don’t think it’s an indication of disinterest. The best evidence of that, I think, is when the hurricane hit New Orleans, the government was a mess, but the country wasn’t. The American people volunteered, took families into their community, made huge contributions. I think it’s a leadership question: somebody has to ask the country to be patriotic and to act outside their own self-interest.”)
Then again, no one seemed to be sold on Hillary, either. Marion Copenhaver, another acerbic Yankee and ex–New Hampshire state representative, warned that other women resent Hillary’s intelligence. And the same guy who thought the Kerry-Edwards loss in ’04 could hurt Edwards’s chances in ’08 professed grave doubts about Clinton’s electability. “I think if Hillary wants to run, she’ll probably get the nomination,” he said. In the general election, though, “I don’t think she can do it. But does that mean I shouldn’t support her? I don’t know.”
Comments like this, which come even from professed admirers of the former first lady, suggest the anti-Hillary trope is here to stay. The 2008 primary season is still a year and a half away, of course, and there’s no guarantee Edwards will be called on to play that particular part. But for a host of reasons, he may be the Democratic rival Hillary most needs to fear.
On the Web
Adam Reilly's Talking Politics: http://www.thephoenix.com/talkingpolitics
John Edwards's One America Committee: http://oneamericacommittee.com/
Letter from Senator Hillary Clinton to constituents on Iraq policy: http://www.hillaryclinton.com/press/view/?id=555
"Hillary's new haters": http://www.villagevoice.com/news/0550,lombardi,70931,6.html
UNC's Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity: http://law.unc.edu/Centers/details.aspx?ID=425&Q=3