Democrats Move Quick to Lessen Damage of John Edwards Affair
Two-Time Presidential Contender Endorsed Obama, Has Not Ruled Out Convention Role
By RICK KLEIN and JENNIFER PARKER
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.
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.
Democrats Debate Fallout of Edwards Affair
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.
Obama was traveling to Hawaii for a weeklong vacation at the time the story broke, and aides did not immediately respond to questions about the Edwards matter.
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.
Edwards Denounced by Campaign Staff
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. 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."
Bad Behavior Damages Political Credibility
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.
Revelation May Damage Obama Bid
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."
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