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Another Sad Chapter In Edwards’ Fall From Grace

Filed by KOSU News in US News.
June 4, 2011

Just about everyone who was out in North Carolina’s capital, Raleigh, on Friday night was painfully aware of John Edwards’ indictment on federal charges that he violated campaign finance laws.

On their way to dinner, Gay Bradley and Jerry Riveros said the news puts an official stamp on their feelings of disappointment.

“He seemed really great and then you find out that he’s, you know, imperfect just like the rest of us,” Bradley said. “But he’s in politics, and so you pay a high price for your imperfections when you’re in politics.”

“And you also feel embarrassed yourself in that you had believed in him and you bought his whole story,” Riveros added.

Outside a North Carolina courthouse Friday, the former presidential candidate told reporters he knows he did wrong.

“I will regret for the rest of my life the pain and the harm that I’ve caused to others,” he said, “but I did not break the law and I never ever thought I was breaking the law.”

Regardless, Riveros and Bradley say the John Edwards saga has been one long letdown — first the affair, then the love child, and now this indictment. Prosecutors say large donations he used to cover up his mistress should be considered campaign contributions, but Edwards plans to fight the charges.

Not surprisingly, former campaign staffers and big donors won’t comment on the indictment or any other aspect of the case.

“I do think there’s a strong feeling around that they just wish it would go away,” said Ferrell Guillory, who teaches journalism and public policy at the University of North Carolina. “There’s a kind of civic squeamishness about it.”

Guillory says it’s almost hard to remember who Edwards once was. The former trial attorney’s meteoric rise in politics began in 1998, when he defeated a well-known Republican in a U.S. Senate race.

“Edwards emerged suddenly without having any political experience and he jumped over several rungs of the ladder,” Guillory said. “I mean he didn’t climb the ladder of politics, he just jumped near the top rung.”

Guillory says Edwards’ courtroom experience served him well in the Senate, where his persuasive speaking skills impressed his colleagues. Just two years later, he was on Al Gore’s short list as a presidential running mate. In 2003, Edwards launched his own presidential campaign in his tiny hometown of Robbins, promising to put an end to economic inequality.

Linda Gunter, a lobbyist and former teacher who’s known for her skill in getting out the Democratic vote, remembers that day well.

“You know, we were there in Robbins when he first announced, and we were so excited to be there and to think that we had somebody from North Carolina that was running for president of the United States,” she said. “It was just a thrill, just a thrill.”

Although Edwards lost to John Kerry in the primaries, he logged a win when Kerry chose him as a running mate. Almost as soon as that race was over, Edwards started campaigning for the 2008 presidential ticket. That’s when his affair started with Rielle Hunter, the campaign videographer who later bore his daughter.

Gunter says in retrospect, it was a train wreck in slow motion.

“You look back and you wonder if he had only been honest and stopped it earlier on when he kind of told Elizabeth that he had, all of this would have been prevented,” she said. “And maybe people would have forgiven him.”

Gunter says she was closer to the late Elizabeth Edwards than she was to John. She hates to think about how Elizabeth died of cancer surrounded by her estranged husband’s scandal.

Play-by-play media coverage of the story has tired many other North Carolinians, too.

“There’s regret, there is Edwards fatigue,” said attorney Chris Heagerty, a specialist in election law who’s following the Edwards case. “You know, this is not a story with a happy ending — whether he is found guilty of the charges or whether he’s cleared of all charges. We’re so far into the story it has not been a pleasant one for many people.”

But the story is still unfolding. Edwards’ trial is expected to begin later this year. And the details of his personal life will continue to keep his infidelity and North Carolina in the limelight. [Copyright 2011 WUNC-FM]

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