State News

Report: Edwards says past won't hurt advocacy

Posted June 17, 2009 6:25 p.m. EDT
Updated June 18, 2009 10:30 a.m. EDT

— Former presidential candidate John Edwards said in an interview published Wednesday that his indiscretions shouldn't harm the fight against poverty and worries nobody has taken up his crusade to target the issue.

The Washington Post story is the first public word from Edwards since he briefly spoke to Oprah Winfrey on one of her talk shows for an episode aired at the outset of wife Elizabeth Edwards' book tour.

John Edwards told the newspaper that he recently has been doing humanitarian work in El Salvador and spending time with his children and cancer-stricken wife.

He declined to discuss with the newspaper his former mistress, her child, his wife's memoir or a federal investigation that he has indicated was looking into his campaign funds.

"The two things I'm on the planet for now are to take care of the people I love and to take care of people who cannot take care of themselves," he told the newspaper.

He questioned whether anyone had taken up his mantle of advocating on behalf of the nation's poor - a constant theme in his presidential bids of 2004 and 2008.

"What happens now? If you were to ask people during the campaign who's talking most about (poverty), it was me," he said. "There's a desperate need in the world for a voice of leadership on this issue... The president's got a lot to do, he's got a lot of people to be responsible for, so I'm not critical of him, but there does need to be an aggressive voice beside the president."

Edwards' voice on the subject has mostly been silenced since he acknowledged last summer that he'd had an extramarital affair with a woman hired in 2006 to produce videos of him as he plotted his second presidential bid. He canceled a number of public appearances before the election, saying at the time he didn't want to be a distraction to his former rival, now-President Barack Obama.

He told the Post that he's not yet ready to declare it had been a mistake to run for the White House, calling that a "very complex question."

Democratic activists have questioned why Edwards launched his presidential run around the time he was having an affair. His wife said in her memoir that Edwards first acknowledged the affair to her in the opening days of the campaign and that she had initially wanted him to drop out.

Just a few months later, she announced that her cancer had returned in an incurable form, yet the couple pressed on with the campaign.

Edwards said he has no plans to try and restore his name, saying he's not focused on reputation. He rejected the notion that his damaged credibility would hurt future efforts to combat poverty. But the newspaper also chronicled several Edwards programs that he stopped sustaining that had been aimed at helping poor people afford housing and college. He said he did what he could, including spending some of his own money to help foreclosed-upon homeowners, and he doesn't have "any pride in this anymore, I just want to help."

"Helping the poor was never about me, and never should have been and isn't today," he said. "Whether I did extraordinarily super-human things or had frailties has nothing to do with people living in the dark every day of their lives."


Information from: The Washington Post