- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 14, 2008

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.”

Still, he had kind words for the president-elect. If he ever does meet Mr. Obama, he said, he would ask, “Does he still have the same ideals Mr. Edwards had about helping the poor and the needy and all the little children in this world and making health care for everyone?”

When he ended his presidential bid in January in New Orleans, Mr. Edwards said that both Mr. Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton had “pledged to me and, more importantly, through me to America that they will make ending poverty central to their campaign for the presidency.”

He added, “More importantly, they have pledged to me that as president they will make ending poverty and economic inequality central to their presidency. This is the cause of my life, and I now have their commitment to engage in this cause.”

The Obama transition office sent The Times a statement detailing the Democrat’s position on poverty, but did not comment on Mr. Edwards’ chances of acquiring a job in the new administration.

“Barack Obama has been a lifelong advocate for the poor, and as president he will fight for meaningful opportunities for low-income Americans with a goal of cutting poverty in half within 10 years,” said spokeswoman Jen Psaki. “While it was unfortunate Obama was unable to meet James Lowe during the campaign, he hopes they will have the opportunity to meet in the future.”

Costas Panagopoulos, a political scientist at Fordham University in New York, said Mr. Edwards may deserve some form of public redemption, but thinks it is unwise for the incoming president to be the one to give him the chance.

“Under some circumstances, such forgiveness could be helpful, but it’s unclear why Obama would find it necessary to take such a risk,” he said.

Bob Lundgren of Orangeburg, S.C., who voted for Mr. Edwards in the South Carolina primary, said he was tempted to dismiss the Democrat as a hypocrite, but felt he still has something to contribute.

“Because his ego was a big part of his problem, I wouldn’t give him a really prominent job,” he said. “However, because he truly does have a lot of knowledge about the issues he cares about, it would be wonderful to make use of that expertise.”

But Matthew Barton of Raleigh, N.C., said Mr. Edwards’ judgment could have seriously jeopardized the Democrats’ chances, especially if he had been selected for the vice-presidential bid.

“Obama owes him nothing,” he said.

Even without a role for Mr. Edwards in the Obama administration, interest groups are pushing for poverty to become a top issue.

Last week, the nonprofit group One began soliciting signatures for a petition that urges Mr. Obama to “make a clear affirmation of your pledge to fight poverty,” among other things.

The group will meet with the transition team to outline its view as to how the former senator’s vision for helping the poor “can be transitioned into reality.”

A close friend of the Edwards family said privately that Mr. Edwards is continuing his work out of the spotlight.

“It’s just his life’s mission. It doesn’t matter if he’s in the administration or not, he’s going to move along,” the friend said. “He’s a good man, and he’s going to keep growing, and that’s what he’s going to do.”

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