She has been called John Edwards’ “backbone,” the candidate’s wife who doesn’t check with campaign central before she speaks her mind about everything from other candidates to her husband’s critics.
But, Elizabeth Edwards insisted during a joint interview with her husband with TODAY co-host Meredith Vieira, she is not doing anything she hasn’t done during the couple’s 30 years of marriage.
“Honestly, I’ve been saying the same things the whole time John’s been in political life,” Elizabeth said during a live interview Tuesday. “I’m just getting more coverage now.”
The coverage sometimes generates more headlines than her husband’s campaign, such as when she called up Chris Matthews’ Hardball program to take on the acidic conservative commentator Ann Coulter, or in a current magazine interview in The Progressive in which she criticizes the Democratic frontrunners, Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barrack Obama, for their positions on Iraq.
When Elizabeth Edwards speaks, it’s not part of an overall campaign strategy.
“Give up on the strategy thing,” John Edwards laughed. “In all the years I’ve known her, she’s been exactly the same person. She speaks her mind. She says what she thinks ... We don’t check in with each other about what we’re about the say.”
Traveling the trail together
The candidate and his wife spoke with Vieira from Iowa, where they are spending six days crisscrossing the state with their children in a bus, stumping for votes in the Iowa caucuses in January, the traditional kick off the primary election season.
The latest polls show Clinton, Obama and Edwards in pretty much of a dead heat, with Edwards enjoying a slight lead.
“Whoever comes out of Iowa successful is going to have a head of steam,” he said.
Their bus tour began on Tuesday, which coincided with the day on which Elizabeth Edwards’ best-selling book, “Saving Graces: Finding Solace and Strength from Friends and Strangers,” is being released in paperback.
She has added a new chapter to the paperback dealing with learning in March that the breast cancer she thought had been conquered in 2004 had returned in a form that can be managed but can not be cured. Elizabeth Edwards said that every day on the campaign trail is a lesson in the solace from others she writes about in her book.
“You can’t overestimate the importance of the people you come in contact with - even in the smallest ways - and how much they mean to you,” she told Vieira. “As I travel here in Iowa, people come up to me and give me a hug and tell me their stories.
“Those are the threads that give texture to our lives and create this tapestry for us. We can wrap ourselves up in it when we need it,” she added.
She said that just as she felt sometimes during the 2004 presidential campaign, when her husband ran for vice president as Sen. John Kerry’s running mate, there are times when she’d like to take a break.
But then, she said, “You meet people who need universal health coverage - they don’t have that. You meet people who work hard but don’t have enough to pay their bills. They convince you that you need to be out there fighting for them.”
She said that candidates and their families have to understand they’re going to be targets. “You put yourself in the spotlight and take your chances,” she said.
Still, some of the commentary strikes her as hitting below the belt. For example, Republican presidential hopeful Fred Thompson’s second wife, Jeri, was described in The New York Times as a “trophy wife.”
“She seems like a lovely woman,” Elizabeth Edwards, who has met the Thompsons, said. “Stands and positions and something you think may be unethical – those things I think are fair game, but trophy wife? I don’t think that’s fair.”
She re-emphasized the importance to her of making connections with people wherever you meet them.
“The cashier at the register has their name on their shirt, and you should be using it,” she told Vieira. “We should be using those connections because they enrich our lives, and in the bad times, those people are there for us and are incredibly supportive."
Speaking of her own personal battle with cancer and her own mortality, she added, “I don’t know what I would have done without the support I’ve had across the country.”