Politics & Government

Sympathy for Elizabeth Edwards as husband reveals affair

Elizabeth Edwards got a gentle kiss on the forehead on her first date with John Edwards, but their life together since then has known harsh surprises. They struggled through the loss of a son and Elizabeth's breast cancer. Now she faces another trauma, but one she already knew about.

John Edwards on Friday admitted an affair with a campaign videographer and said that he disclosed the relationship to his family in 2006. Some friends and supporters, while expressing sympathy for Elizabeth Edwards, also voiced puzzlement over how she plowed into a presidential campaign.

"I'd murder him," said longtime Raleigh friend Ellan Maynard. "She knew about it going into a presidential campaign. ... I would've pulled the plug. I would have told him, 'You're sleeping over at the other end of the house.' "

Maynard said Elizabeth Edwards has not returned calls or e-mail messages for a month.

Under the name Elizabeth Edwards, a post on the Daily Kos blog Friday criticized media coverage of the affair as "sensationalism" and "voyeurism." It also said she wanted the affair to remain private.

"Admitting one's mistakes is a hard thing for anyone to do, and I am proud of the courage John showed by his honesty in the face of shame," the post reads.

Elizabeth Edwards was in Chicago taping a "Stand Up to Cancer" TV segment with champion cyclist and fellow cancer survivor Lance Armstrong on July 21. That's the night John Edwards was confronted at a Beverly Hills hotel by a reporter from the National Enquirer after visiting Rielle Hunter, the woman with whom he had the affair.

During the 2008 presidential primaries, Elizabeth Edwards became part of her husband's message, helping convey a loving, supportive marriage that survived tragedy. She told voters in an ad that her husband "can stare the worst in the face, and not blink," alluding to their son's death and her cancer. She routinely made self-effacing comments about her looks and weight while complimenting his youthful visage.

A line from her 2004 Democratic National Convention speech emphasized their bond: "I married the smartest, toughest, sweetest man I know."

Elizabeth Edwards' own celebrity, partly driven by an Oprah-endorsed best-seller, helped draw supporters to her husband's presidential bid.

"She was the message. She was part of everything, every step, every decision," said Marissa Baltus, an early New Hampshire supporter whose house was a stop on Edwards' first campaign trip there in 2002.

"It's sad," she said Friday.

During a September 2006 appearance on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," John Edwards called his wife "my conscience." It was not clear Friday whether his affair had ended by then.

Elizabeth Edwards has chronicled her other battles in speeches and her book, reflecting on her son's death in 1996 and her cancer, which was diagnosed in 2004 and re-emerged three years later.

"She's a very courageous woman. She'll work through adversity and go on," said New Hampshire state Sen. Lou D'Alessandro, a close supporter in the 2004 presidential campaign.

Wade Smith, a friend and a Raleigh lawyer, said he saw no hints of a problem in the marriage.

"I don't know what impact it would have on their relationship," Smith said.

"I admire her immensely."