Poverty off political radar

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Believers in John Edwards are urging President-elect Barack Obama to forgive the former presidential candidate’s indiscretions and consider him for an administration post or at least elevate Mr. Edwards’ signature issue of poverty.

Friends, former aides and even the Virginia man whom Mr. Edwards made central to his fight for universal health care say the Democrat should be given another chance.

Mr. Edwards vanished from politics over the summer after he acknowledged having an extramarital affair. His wife, Elizabeth, had been going through a public battle with cancer. The former senator from North Carolina went from being on the shortlist for a vice-presidential pick or Cabinet post within the Obama circle to persona non grata.

But some lament that when he disappeared, so did the issues he championed, despite early promises from Mr. Obama to embark on a poverty tour and push the issue on the campaign trail.

“The word ‘poverty’ has not been used since John Edwards dropped out,” said Jonathan Tasini, executive director of the Labor Research Association.

Mr. Obama emphasized the state of the economy during his campaign and promised to help the middle class, but he never specifically pushed the issue of poverty.

Mr. Tasini said Mr. Edwards would be the best choice for secretary of labor, though he doubts that will happen.

“I know it would be radioactive, but here’s a guy who wants redemption,” he said. “Here’s a guy who would have a chance if he got that appointment to change the first sentence in his obituary.”

Others said Mr. Edwards’ issues should not have disappeared.

“The biggest casualty of his indiscretions was the idea that poverty is now taken off the table,” a former Edwards staffer said.

“I don’t think John Edwards is at the top of anyone’s list, but the cause that he championed should be one that the president of the United States adopts, not as a tribute to John Edwards, but as a commitment to the millions of Americans who still live in poverty.”

Mr. Edwards regularly talked about the plight of James Lowe of southwestern Virginia when describing his passion for reforming health care. He would tell voters that Mr. Lowe could not speak for 50 years because he could not afford the health care to fix his cleft palate.

Mr. Lowe, who joined Mr. Edwards during the final weeks of the campaign, said he hopes Mr. Edwards can mount a comeback.

“We believe in what John Edwards stood for when he was running for president,” he told The Washington Times. “We still believe he’s a good man. I still believe that Mr. Edwards could do a lot for this country if he just had a chance.”

Mr. Lowe said Obama staffers once promised him a face-to-face meeting with the Democratic candidate but “it never happened.”

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About the Author

Christina Bellantoni

Christina Bellantoni is a White House correspondent for The Washington Times in Washington, D.C., a post she took after covering the 2008 Democratic presidential campaigns. She has been with The Times since 2003, covering state and Congressional politics before moving to national political beat for the 2008 campaign. Bellantoni, a San Jose native, graduated from UC Berkeley with ...

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