Delegates With a Broken Pledge

John Edwards, with wife Elizabeth in January, admitted to an affair with another woman.
John Edwards, with wife Elizabeth in January, admitted to an affair with another woman. (By Paul Sancya -- Associated Press)
By Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 28, 2008

DENVER, Aug. 27 -- Think the Hillary Clinton delegates feel miserable and dejected? Spend a moment with Deb Nelson.

The high school English teacher from New Hampshire arrived here this week with a scarlet "E" on her chest. That's E for Edwards. She is one of the 26 delegates former North Carolina senator John Edwards collected on the path to ultimate primary defeat in South Carolina and personal destruction in the pages of the National Enquirer.

Nelson, 54, like the rest of the Edwards delegates, will support Sen. Barack Obama. Unlike Clinton delegates, many of whom have parted wistfully, or even grudgingly, from their first-choice candidate, Nelson is more than ready to kick Edwards to the curb. How did she feel when Edwards confessed he had been cheating on wife Elizabeth, with whom Nelson shared chicken salad sandwiches in her kitchen in Hanover?

"I'm sure you can imagine," Nelson said, pain on her face as she shook her head while standing on the Democratic convention floor. "I was . . . words really don't . . . terrible. Terrible. Aghast."

The bitter taste of betrayal is widespread in this group. Sharon Nordgren, a New Hampshire state representative, was, until the admission, a die-hard Edwards supporter. Nordgren, 64, said she was stunned to learn that while she and others were cheering him on, Edwards was stumping around her state with his paramour, Rielle Hunter, a woman he met in a bar and hired to do biographical videos for him. Confronting this unsavory image again, she made a face that looked as if she smelled something rotten.

How did Nordgren react to the news of Edwards's affair? "Not printable," she said.

Despite his high-profile second try for the White House, Edwards is one party headliner not at the Democratic National Convention. If his name is raised at all, it is in whispers.

His delegates are one of the more underground subgroups here; for them, the tawdry Edwards affair is much more than titillating gossip. As they reflected on the candidate whose campaign led them to the floor of the Pepsi Center here, they kept returning to two main topics.

First: Elizabeth and the couple's three children. "I feel so terrible for them," Nordgren said.

Second: A wrenching sense of lost opportunity.

Kate Michelman, the longtime warrior for abortion rights who took flak from her political sisters when she broke from the pack and backed Edwards for president, said she saw in him a man who understood "the next leg of the journey for women had to be focused on economic security."

Michelman, speaking by phone from her living room, with the sounds of convention speeches coming from the television, said she thought long and hard before getting behind Edwards, instead of joining Sen. Hillary Clinton's bid to become the first woman president.

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