Covering politics in North Carolina and beyond, VoterRadio.com is streaming 24 hours a day. Listen live or on-demand.
What's Next for John Edwards?
By Graham Anson
Published: June 7, 2012
RALEIGH - From Jesse Helms to Terry Sanford, North Carolina’s level of success in generating legitimately electable presidential candidates has been lackluster to say the least -- that was, until John Edwards came along.
Edwards propelled himself toward a career in politics after becoming one of the most famous plaintiff attorneys in North Carolina, winning a state record $25 million in a personal injury award from the pool drain cover manufacturer Sta-Rite.
Shortly thereafter, Edwards ran for the U.S. Senate seat of one-term Republican Lauch Faircloth. Edwards won election in 1998 by a slim margin, thus beginning his career in politics and the public eye.
Edwards quickly became a respected junior senator, presiding over witness deposition in Bill Clinton’s 1999 impeachment trial. With boyish good looks, a million-dollar smile, and a purposefully chosen smattering of Andy-from-Mayberry southern charm, Edwards was an early choice to be Al Gore’s vice presidential pick in 2000.
Gore eventually chose Joseph Lieberman instead, but Edwards had rooted himself as a rising star in the Democratic Party, and was poised for a run at the presidency in 2004. Edwards had to instead settle on being John Kerry’s running mate, but the message was clear -- John Edwards was here to stay.
Flash-forward to the result of his corruption trial last week and the consensus among North Carolinians (well, save some members of the media) is quite the opposite -- when will John Edwards just go away?
The answer is still unclear, but probably not any time soon.
Edwards was found not guilty on one count of illegal campaign contributions, and the jury was unable to reach a consensus on the other five counts. No, he is not going to jail, and yes, that means our infamous $400-haircut-clad philanderer will remain in the public eye, to some capacity.
At this point, Edwards is a bit of an enigma. Americans love to forgive, but they don’t forget, putting Edwards in the category of Bill Clinton, Tiger Woods and Michael Vick among people whose gravestones will bear their biggest transgressions. For Edwards, it won’t be as easy a road to recovery as simply signing with a new team in a new city, donating to PETA or going to rehab.
All indications are that Edwards is still hated in North Carolina, as a 2010 survey from Public Policy Polling found that his 15 percent favorability rating in North Carolina made him the “most unpopular (we’ve) polled anywhere and any time.”
A congress-esque approval rating will be tough to overcome, and in his home state no less, but at this point, we’re probably better off coming to grips with the reality that Edwards is a North Carolina man who has come to roost here. In short, the book on Edwards in North Carolina is still very much unfinished.
Which brings us to the other lingering question surrounding Edwards: Now what?
Some say chances of rekindling a career in public service are laughable, considering the outrageousness of his cheating scandal. But as we recently discovered, at least according to the jury, Edwards broke no laws, and although the circumstances are dissimilar to Edwards’, a measure of forgiveness has been found for a convicted dogfighter and a president that lied under oath in the past.
The problem resides in the fact that Edwards was so aw-shucks likeable, and being the N.C. Democratic Party’s knight in shining armor, not too many people saw any of this Rielle Hunter mess coming.
Maybe that likability has turned into we-really-like-talking-about-you, but such has been the case in so many other celebrity scandals.
It might be ill-advised, or even downright stupid, for Edwards to continue his political career, but let’s be honest -- anyone who thinks he can have an out-of-wedlock love child behind the back of his cancer-riddled wife while running a presidential primary campaign and not get caught has enough ego to fill the Dean Smith Center.
Perhaps Edwards will fall back on his other option and attempt to rebuild his rapport as an attorney, disappearing between the cracks, but I suspect we haven’t seen the end of the John Edwards saga. If he hasn’t told you yet, he’s the son of a millworker, and those guys are resilient.