DENVER — Former Sen. John Edwards is hard for North Carolina delegates at the Democratic National Convention to ignore, even if most are trying their best.
Many Democrats had hoped that Denver would be Edwards' crowning moment, where he would accept the presidential nomination that eluded him four years earlier. But evidence of Edwards' fall — his defeat in the presidential primary and his subsequent sex scandal — is tangible.
Four years ago in Boston, when Edwards was the vice presidential nominee, the North Carolina delegation had prime seats near the convention's rostrum. This year, the delegation has been banished to nose-bleed seats — high up even for the Mile High City. On one side of North Carolina is the delegation from Arizona, the home of Republican presidential nominee John McCain. On the other side is the delegation from Texas, home of President Bush.
Four years ago, the North Carolina delegation stayed downtown. This year, the delegates are in a chain hotel off the interstate in a suburb.
The biggest name North Carolina Democrats have attracted to address their daily delegation breakfast has been Bill Halter, the lieutenant governor of Arkansas.
The largest letdown may be a psychic one. After years in which Democrats complained that North Carolina’s most famous politician was Republican Jesse Helms, they thought they had finally found a new face for Tar Heel politics.
"When I was in New Hampshire, I was so proud to be from North Carolina," said former state Sen. Linda Gunter, 58, a retired teacher from Cary. Gunter campaigned in several states during Edwards’ presidential runs.
Democrats in Denver speak in hushed tones about Edwards, as though they are talking about the deceased. They offer condolences to his family and then let the subject drop.
Edwards is not here. His wife, Elizabeth, was initially listed as a speaker at a health care forum scheduled for Wednesday, but sponsors say she is not expected to attend.
Although there have been national reports that Edwards has been calling former supporters and staffers to apologize for lying about an affair with a former campaign staffer, none of the North Carolina Democrats here say they have talked to him.
U.S. Rep. David Price, whose district includes Edwards’ Orange County home, said he had not been called. Nor has Rep. Mel Watt of Charlotte, who was a key supporter. "I'm surprised and saddened by it," said Price.
Added Watt: "I know this is a very difficult time for him and his wife. He needs to be looking internally at this point, not worrying about me."
Ed Turlington, a Raleigh lawyer who was Edwards' general campaign chairman, said Edwards tried to get in touch but they had not connected.
"What I feel is sadness, sadness that he is not here," Turlington said. "That an important voice on economic issues is not being heard."
There are a few Edwards delegates at the convention, votes he picked up in Iowa and South Carolina before dropping out.
"It was disappointing," said Rob Groce, 40, of Summerville, S.C. "But what was more disappointing to me was that his wife and family had to go through this all over again."
Arlene Prather, 54, a nurse from Cedar Falls, Iowa, said she would not judge Edwards.
"I can't tell what was going on his life that he made the wrong choice," she said. "We all make mistakes. This one was a doozy."