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Elizabeth Edwards, Critic and Crowd-Pleaser


John and Elizabeth Edwards on the campaign trail. (AP).

To a casual observer, it might seem as if the John Edwards campaign has unofficially delegated his wife Elizabeth to be the teller of hard truths who will lay out the case for her husband in tougher language than he himself can. Every few weeks brings a new, finely honed criticism of Edwards' chief rivals, the latest being her comment in a TIME article published last week that Hillary Clinton would face a challenge in the general election because the "hatred" against her would "energize the Republican base."

But this week, Mrs. Edwards denied any concerted effort on her part to deliver bomblets on her husband's behalf. "I answer questions asked me," she said while waiting to march in the Labor Day parade in Pittsburgh. "I do not go out of my way."
Asked to elaborate on her comments about Clinton's electability, Mrs. Edwards shrugged. "It's what I hear on the road. It gets repeated to me," she said.

Among Edwards' previous attention-getting remarks in recent months were: comments in an interview with Progressive magazine that Barack Obama was acting "holier than thou" in brandishing his early opposition to the war in Iraq and that Clinton lacked the "political will" to enact universal health care; comments in a Salon interview that Clinton was not as strong an advocate on women's issues as John Edwards; and comments in a online trade magazine that John Edwards needed to run a Web-based campaign because his not being black or female was keeping him from getting much traditional media coverage. Last year, at a forum sponsored by Ladies Home Journal, Edwards suggested that her career choices had made her happier than Clinton, a comment she said was taken out of context and apologized to Clinton for.

Edwards' sharp rhetoric does not appear to have affected her popularity with the broader public. Just before the parade's start, a teenaged girl approached her and said she admired Edwards' battle against an incurable form of cancer, saying her own father had recently died of cancer. "I admire your courage," Edwards told the girl. "Just make sure you get yourself checked out, okay?"

And when Carol Constantine, 53, an unemployed corporate researcher, saw Edwards in the parade, she jumped forward to cheer her. "I love her. She's very bright, smart and compassionate," she said. "She's been through hard times and understands what they're like. I don't know if I could do it, be that brave. When I get a cold, I lay down in bed."

As for Edwards' latest charge against Clinton, Constantine thought it was simply common sense. "Edwards can win," she said. "I love Hillary and Obama, but my personal belief is I don't think they can win."

--Alec MacGillis

By Washington Post editors  |  September 5, 2007; 2:48 PM ET
 
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