RALEIGH, N.C. — John Edwards lost a prime-time speaking slot at the Democratic National Convention. He likely blew a chance at a possible Cabinet post in a Barack Obama administration. And he may very well have lost any hope of being the voice for America's poor and forgotten.
Edwards' infidelity to his cancer-stricken wife, Elizabeth, and the lies leading up to his confession have sent him into the political wilderness, delaying, if not destroying, any chance of regaining a place on the political stage.
Questions have grown in recent weeks after a tabloid story about the affair with Rielle Hunter, a woman who made a handful of videos about his campaign.
"No one in the Democratic Party would want to be publicly associated with him," said Merle Black, a political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta. "Edwards is really damaged goods at this point."
Edwards soared on to the national stage within two years of getting elected to the Senate in 1998, and seemed to have everything in place to remain a major player on the U.S. political and economic stage, win or lose the White House.
First, he was on Al Gore's short list as a running mate in 2000. His presidential campaign in 2004, which led to his vice presidential nomination on the ticket with John Kerry, focused on "Two Americas," a reflection, he said, of the growing divide between rich and poor. Poised for a second presidential bid, Edwards' message became even more populist heading toward 2008.
Edwards has always had a compelling personal story: growing up in a middle-class textile family in rural South Carolina before becoming a successful trial lawyer and millionaire. But he was hardly a traditional populist, bedeviled during his latest campaign by tales of $400 haircuts and reminders of his 102-acre estate — complete with basketball gym and 28,000-square-foot mansion — outside of Chapel Hill.
"He was raised as one of us — the son of a mill worker, he always said," remembered Ken Roos of the Service Employees International Union in New Hampshire, which endorsed Edwards for president. "Fighting poverty and providing health care for everybody. … I hope those are still always his beliefs."
Edwards said last week when he acknowledged the affair that he still wanted to continue a life of service for those whose "voices never get heard."
Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee, promised Edwards a prime-time speaking role at the Democratic National Convention this month when Edwards endorsed him to talk about economics and poverty, a Democratic official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, told the Associated Press.
Discussion of a Cabinet position, such as attorney general, is all but over now.
"Had that not happened, I think he would have made an absolutely incredible secretary of labor," said Harris Raynor, Southern regional director of UNITE HERE, a union representing textile workers, hotel employees and restaurant workers nationwide. "We would have loved to see him play a prominent role in government."