'We Have to Elevate the Discussion'

While fundraising in Houston Wednesday afternoon, presidential candidate John Edwards told ABC News he was "very proud" of his wife, Elizabeth, for confronting conservative provocateur Ann Coulter the day before for her comments about their campaign strategy.

"I think she was making it clear that we can't continue to tolerate this kind of name-calling and hate-mongering," Edwards said. "We have to elevate the discussion because this is all calculated to keep us from talking about … the things that affect people's lives, like men and women dying in Iraq."

Coulter has accused the former Democratic senator of exploiting the 1996 death of his son Wade for political gains, and was widely condemned after she used an anti-gay slur to mock him in March.

After an appearance on "Good Morning America" Monday in which Coulter defended her March insult, Elizabeth Edwards called into MSNBC's "Hardball" to confront the bestselling author (a guest on the cable program), who has carved out a niche for herself as a political and cultural commentator using a knife of cruelty and hyperbole.

"These personal attacks, that the things she has said over the years not just about John but about other candidates, it lowers our political dialogue precisely at the time that we need to raise it," said Edwards. "So I want to use the opportunity to ask her politely stop the personal attacks."

"How about you stop raising money on the Web page?" Coulter asked in response, referring to the e-mail campaign the Edwardses launched with video of Coulter's March remarks. They are using the video to raise funds referred to as "Coulter cash" for his campaign.

However sincere the request may have been, Elizabeth Edwards is no naif, and Tuesday afternoon's TV political stunt had a clear purpose. By breakfast Wednesday the political story of the day was, once again, team Edwards challenging Coulter's incendiary comments. By lunch, the Edwards campaign had sent out a fundraising e-mail seeking more "Coulter cash."

"We're saying to other Americans -- good people who believe the same thing -- you can join us in this, your voice needs to be heard, you can participate in this," said Edwards, who was also the 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee.

Tackling Pundits of All Political Stripes

The candidate did not directly respond when asked whether it was hypocritical to wage a campaign against "hateful" language when his campaign had briefly employed two controversial liberal bloggers accused of using similarly incendiary language against Catholics and Republicans.

But his campaign's fundraising dynamic is not limited to criticism of conservative pundits. Earlier this month, the Edwards campaign sent out an e-mail protesting general media coverage of matters trivial -- entitled Haircuts and Hatchet Jobs -- that in particular took aim at a story by The New York Times that challenged the validity of an anti-poverty center Edwards set up.

"Last week The New York Times ran a story suggesting that it was wrong for John to have spent the last three years raising awareness of poverty and advocating for solutions," wrote deputy campaign manager Jonathan Prince. "As if there's any way to draw attention to poverty without publicity! And to make matters worse, the reporter just refused to even talk with any of the people who benefited -- like any of the 200 young people who got scholarships through the College for Everyone program, or the 700 students who went to New Orleans with John to help rebuild. So we really need your help to get our message out; please, give what you can today."

"I think this is much broader than Ann Coulter," John Edwards said. "I think this is part of a language and an attack system that is calculated to move us away from the things that affect people's lives."

Edwards said comments Coulter made about him and his Democratic rivals are all "calculated to keep us from having a serious dialogue and debate about universal health care, the war in Iraq, energy policy -- those are the things we should be talking about in a presidential campaign.

"When this kind of effort is being made you have to stand up and fight back, and that's what I'm doing," Edwards added.

According to a source on the Edwards campaign, that anti-New York Times appeal was the most successful e-mail appeal of this quarter. Until Ann Coulter showed up again, of course.

This week Coulter is hawking the paperback edition of her bestselling book "Godless," just as Edwards approaches the June 30 deadline for second-quarter fundraising for presidential campaigns. Enemies can have their uses.