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Ready for Another Tough Campaign

John and Elizabeth Edwards at their news conference. No strangers to tragedy, they lost a son in a car accident in 1996.
John and Elizabeth Edwards at their news conference. No strangers to tragedy, they lost a son in a car accident in 1996. (By Jeffrey A. Camarati -- Bloomberg News)

"With Elizabeth, what you see is definitely what you get, and that's the way she is in private," says Gordon Livingston, whose friendship with Edwards dates to the bereavement network that helped her after the death of her son.

"And she's been tested as few other people have, and I think what's important for people watching this is to see the unflinching way in which she's remained optimistic in the face of bad news," Livingston said.

A staunch advocate for her husband's campaign and his closest adviser, she made clear yesterday she wanted her husband to continue campaigning because "it's unbelievably important that we get his election right. And in my view, there's nobody who's offering people in this country a more positive and delineated vision about where we can go than John."

"Of course" John Edwards would have offered to suspend his campaign, says Chris Downey, the former wife of former Rep. Tom Downey, who befriended the Edwardses when they first came to Washington, "because he cherishes her. He cherishes his family. That's what he would do. He would stop everything."

But Downey and other friends say it would be Elizabeth's way to insist that her husband campaign on.

"Quite frankly, I suspect she was the one to say, 'Don't suspend the campaign.' She is not a quitter," said Debbie Dingell, a friend of Edwards. "She wouldn't think of it. They are a total team. She's sensitive to people, trends and political situations in a unique way. She is a very strong and a very decent woman."

Edwards has long been the center of her husband's world, the one whose advice he has always sought and for whom who he would practice his opening statements before a trial, said Bonnie Weyher, a friend from law school. She recalls a well-told story about Edwards having to make a split-second legal decision during a trial and looking to his wife in the gallery for her nod.

During the 2004 presidential race, Elizabeth Edwards almost always traveled with her husband, and aides knew she was the ultimate gatekeeper and her husband's closest adviser. She sat in on every debate practice and "not as a cheerleader," said one person involved in that campaign.

"She was very well versed in all the issues and had no trouble telling him, 'That was an awful answer,' " the source said. "He clearly relied on her heavily."

In her book, Edwards wrote about what informed how she campaigned. She decided she would not be a caricature of a campaign spouse. She would not change herself to fit a type. In all those nursing centers and shopping centers and kitchen campaign events, she would not -- and probably could not -- be someone she was not. Voters wanted that rarest of political beings: a real person. And that's all she could be.

"There were a lot of ways to have this experience, but I only knew one, the one I had learned growing up -- open up, let them in, and find out what we share," she wrote in her memoir. "You didn't have to be perfect; you had to be open."

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