Elizabeth Edwards, estranged wife of disgraced presidential candidate John Edwards, died today at age 61 after a six-year battle with breast cancer.
I had the chance to meet and interview Elizabeth two years ago during one of John’s campaign stops in Marengo. John Edwards was making his second run for the presidency, and he was gaining momentum, especially among Iowans not yet sure if they wanted to support a black man (Barack Obama) or a woman (Hillary Clinton). Edwards seemed to be a safe choice.
He had his virtues. He was young, clean cut and good-looking. He was a competent orator and he looked the part. His father worked in the mines and Edwards had the blue collar background Iowans connected with, plus during his days as a prosecutor, he had a track record of fighting for the little guy.
So on paper, and on the TV, John Edwards looked like a contender. Unfortunately, in real life, he was an asshole.
Not just because he cheated on his wife while she slowly and painfully died from cancer, but also because of the way he treated the little guy.
While I met Elizabeth Edwards just the once, I met John Edwards twice. The first time was when I was an intern with the Storm Lake Pilot Tribune back in 2003. Edwards was making his first run for president, and was another goose in the flock of Democrats seeking the nomination to lose to George W.
Edwards was a fresh face among a gaggle of creaky veterans such as John Kerry,Dick Gephart, Howard Dean and Dennis Kucinich. Even though Edwards had no chance at the nomination, he acted like a prissy diva.
Edwards showed up to the campaign event in Storm Lake nearly 45 minutes late. He gave a short speech to an audience of about 50 supporters in a crowded coffee shop. He took a few questions, then he was done. I approached him to ask a few questions.
His face was red and sweaty, and even though he was still smiling that cream cheese smile, his eyes looked weary. I asked if he had time for questions, and before I could finish my sentence, Edwards waved me off, and said “I need to spend some time meeting with some loyal supporters.”
As a young reporter, I was not put off. He was, after all, a busy man, and needed time to see friends. He didn’t have to talk to an intern in Storm Lake if he didn’t want to. I was fine with that.
Cut to four years later. John, along with his wife Elizabeth, came to Marengo making another stump for the presidency. Edwards was the first serious candidate to come through Marengo, and the crowd was there in full colors. Instead of a crowded coffee shop, Edwards was met with a throng of supporters, and the event had to be held outdoors.
After his speech, Edwards met with reporters in a local cafe (which is no longer in business). He first conducted an exclusive interview with the Des Moines Register reporter. Which I was fine with. I could wait my turn. This time I made sure to corner one of Edwards’ handlers to make sure I had some time to ask questions of the senator. I was the Marengo editor. Not an intern. This was my town and I was going to get an interview.
When Edwards was done with the Register, you could tell he was looking for the door. I made sure to obstruct his exit and planted myself squarely in front of him. I introduced myself and he begrudgedly agreed to answer some questions. I got my time, but Edwards terse. I at least had the quotes I needed.
Edwards made a beeline for the door. As soon as he left, someone grabbed my arm.
It was Elizabeth Edwards. With both her hands wrapped gently around my bicep, she introduced herself and exclaimed how grateful she was to be able to spend time with small town folks. Her eyes sparkled and her wide smile was as genuine as Dick Cheney’s hairline.
We had a nice chat, and she had a way of just making you feel like a better person, just for meeting her. She worked the room of the cafe, making sure to stop by every single table and shake hands with every customer. They couldn’t get rid of her.
One thing I noted, and for some reason seemed odd to me, was that Edwards were traveling separately. John in his large tour bus, Elizabeth in an SUV.
It was well known that Elizabeth was suffering from cancer at the time of our meeting, but you never would have guessed it by the way she behaved. She made you feel like your life was much more interesting than hers, and she truly believed there were other Americans in a worse situation than hers, and she was going to do what she could to help.
Her husband, on the other hand, was great at working the crowd. He could shake hands and kiss babies with the best of them, but when he had to meet the voters intimately, he was uncomfortable and shifty. He probably feels the same way in church.
In contrast, a few months later I was able to meet and interview Barack Obama. Obama’s crowd was much larger and more intense than Edwards’, and the national media was crawling all over the barn where the rally was held. But Obama saved special time with a one-on-one interview with me. He said he was there to meet with the local people, which meant he wanted to be sure to meet with the local press.
Hillary, by the way, only gave time to the largest campaign contributors. The local press couldn’t even get close enough to sniff her perfume.
But above them all, stands Elizabeth Edwards. She was a mother, a wife and a true American lady.