RALEIGH, N.C. — Scarred by an extramarital affair and weakened by two failed presidential campaigns, Democrat John Edwards is pushing to return to the national political stage by championing an issue he once owned: a crusade to end poverty.
With the 2008 presidential campaign safely over, the Southern populist emerged again last week, testing the waters in events in California and Indiana that provided him publicity without scrutiny. How he'll make his voice heard is yet to be seen — the fight for his signature cause comes from outside of elected office, and without many political allies.
"It's probably premature to try and figure out how all of that plays out, but I do know that the work he's done and the beliefs he has for addressing poverty are very important and shouldn't be completely overshadowed," said John Moylan, a South Carolina attorney who is a friend of the former North Carolina senator. "We'll see him continuing that very important work."
In his speeches, Edwards pushed the same themes he did on the campaign trail, speaking about "Two Americas" and an economic divide that requires health care changes and global cooperation to combat. But he avoided questions from reporters, and took only prescreened questions at a speech in Indiana. A moderator at a debate in California even tried to declare it an off-the-record event.
Edwards had not spoken publicly since early August, when he acknowledged an affair with a woman hired to produce videos of him as he plotted a presidential bid in 2006. He sought sanctuary in the aftermath, canceling all appearances in what he said was an effort to avoid distracting attention from Barack Obama's bid for the White House.
Once considered a top pick for a high-profile position in the president-elect's administration, Edwards must try to push his way back into the national political dialogue from the fringe. While Obama praised Edwards in early campaign visits to North Carolina, he distanced himself after Edwards admitted to the affair, never mentioning his name in the campaign's final stops.