Democrats Move Quick to Lessen Damage of John Edwards Affair

Sen. Barack Obama says Edwards will not have a convention role.


Aug. 8, 2008 — -- John Edwards' admission that he had an extramarital affair puts pressure on Sen. Barack Obama to quickly distance himself from the former North Carolina senator and prominent Democrats are calling on him to announce immediately that Edwards will not have any role at the Democratic National Convention.

Obama was traveling to Hawaii for a weeklong vacation at the time the story broke, but upon landing in Honolulu told reporters Edwards has indicated that he won't be speaking at the convention.

"The Edwards family indicated that they probably wouldn't be attending the convention," Obama said, "I understand that," he said, "look this is a difficult and painful time for them and I think they need to work through that process of healing."

Obama praised Edwards, saying, "John Edwards was a great champion of working people through the course of this campaign," he said, "many of his themes are ones that Democrats as a whole share, those will be amplified in the convention, and I wish them all well."

By tradition, unsuccessful primary contenders are showcased at the convention, and Obama aides suggested before today's revelation that Edwards and other former candidates would be part of the speaking program.

Edwards indicated during his interview with ABC News' Bob Woodruff that he had not yet decided whether he would still like to be part of the convention and the Obama campaign.

But with the news breaking barely two weeks before the spotlight falls on the Democratic Party in Denver, many Democrats say Edwards must be completely sidelined for the remainder of this campaign -- if not longer.

The decision should be easy for the Illinois Democrat, said Don Fowler, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee

"If he struggles with it, I'll think less of him," Fowler said. "I don't think it requires more than about 15 seconds of thought."

"I don't mean to make light of it or be cavalier about it, but I just think the convention, on the ticket, in the Cabinet -- all that's precluded," he added.

Fowler was among a growing chorus of Democrats who had urged Edwards to respond to the allegations of an affair -- first reported in the National Enquirer -- to clear the air before the convention.

One Democratic official stressed the call would be Obama's alone -- but that it was difficult to imagine him wanting Edwards "anywhere near Denver" later this month.

Another blow to Democrats today -- Edwards former national finance chairman, Fred Baron, said he had made payments to Hunter in an attempt to keep her quiet about the affair, without the knowledge of Edwards.

Elizabeth Edwards, who has been a popular figure in the Democratic Party, especially among left-leaning bloggers, posted a blog on the liberal Daily Kos Web site Friday, asking for privacy for her family.

"John made a terrible mistake in 2006 ... this was our private matter," she wrote. " I ask that the public, who expressed concern about the harm John's conduct has done to us, think also about the real harm that the present voyeurism does and give me and my family the privacy we need at this time."

Another longtime friend of the Edwards argued that the former senator remains a valuable public figure.

"For many years, he has given voice to the voiceless and he has now taken responsibility for a personal mistake," said John Moylan, Edwards' 2008 South Carolina campaign director. "He still has much to offer this country and I look forward to helping any way that I can."

Edwards spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri said on CNN that she did not expect either John Edwards or Elizabeth Edwards to speak at the convention.

"I expect that both of them are going to be staying home that week," Palmieri said, "It's been a difficult time and I think that want to have some time to be with their family and help each other get through this."

Palmieri said John Edwards held a conference call with former campaign staff this afternoon and apologized to them for "misleading everyone" and "putting at risk everything they had all worked so hard for."

Former Edwards allies and associates denounced and distanced themselves from a man who has suddenly become politically toxic.

Among the most scathing reactions came from the man who led Edwards' 2008 presidential bid, characterizing his ex-boss' affair as a betrayal.

"I am disappointed and angry," said David Bonior, a former congressman from Michigan who managed Edwards' 2008 presidential campaign. "Thousands of friends and supporters of Sen. Edwards put their faith and confidence in him and he has let them down. Young supporters who put their time and energy into his campaign with a newfound energy and idealism for politics have been betrayed by his actions."

Even beyond the public denials, Edwards had vehemently denied the allegations privately to aides. Jonathan Prince, Edward's 2008 deputy campaign manager, said on CNN that the former senator personally lied to him during the campaign about not having an affair.

Many aides repeated his denials to reporters -- not aware that they were being told to lie.

"I am profoundly disappointed and devastated," said Chris Kofinis, who was Edwards' communications director during his 2008 campaign. "We believed in him, and it's heartbreaking, and I send my thoughts and prayers to Elizabeth, the senator and his family as they deal with this personal tragedy."

The revelation damages the Democratic Party's image at a critical time.

Edwards joins a growing list of prominent Democrats -- from Gary Hart to Bill Clinton to former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer -- in having engaged in extramarital affairs.

Democrats moved quickly to bat down suggestions that the party is plagued by sex scandals, noting that recent scandals have also embroiled Republicans.

"This is nothing endemic to being a Democrat here -- this is a human condition," Paul Begala, a former Clinton adviser, said on CNN, one of many cable channels that went with wall-to-wall coverage of the affair.

Veteran presidential adviser David Gergen argued if Edwards had won the Democratic primaries, it could have been catastrophic for the party.

"Had he been the nominee tonight, and this story broke in the way it did, it would have blown up his candidacy and cost the Democratic Party it's chance for regaining the White House," Gergen said on CNN.

While Edwards endorsed Obama late in the primary campaign, few Democrats are worried that the story will significantly affect Obama's campaign -- if he moves immediately to sever ties with the former North Carolina senator.

Republicans privately expressed glee with the revelation, pointing to what they characterized as Edwards' hypocrisy. But they don't seem inclined to make Edwards' infidelities into a broader argument about Obama, at least in the short term.

"I don't have any comment on it," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said during a news conference while campaigning late this afternoon in Rogers, Ark.

Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., who failed to get Edwards' endorsement after he ended his 2008 presidential bid, expressed few words about the news.

"My thoughts and prayers are with the Edwards family and that's all I have to say," said Clinton.

Citing Bill Clinton's regained popularity after his extramarital affair in the White House was revealed, Fowler did not rule out the possibility of a political rehabilitation by Edwards -- but said such moves will have to wait until well after this election season.

"We Americans live in what I think is a great Judeo-Christian tradition of forgiveness and forgetting. I think over time it will happen," Fowler said. "But all that's good in the image they brought to public life makes this seem reprehensible."

ABC News' Sunlen Miller, Raelyn Johnson and Teddy Davis contributed to this report.

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