Politics & Government

After Edwards' downfall, N.C. delegation pays a price

Many of the N.C. Democrats here had hoped this would be former Sen. John Edwards' crowning moment, when he would accept the Democratic nomination for president that had eluded him four years ago.

But evidence of Edwards' fall in a sex scandal is quite tangible.

Four years ago in Boston, when Edwards was the vice presidential nominee, the N.C. delegation had prime seats near the convention's rostrum. This year, the delegation has been banished to the nosebleed seats. On one side of North Carolina is the delegation from Arizona, the home of Republican presidential nominee John McCain. On the other side is the delegation from Texas, the home of President Bush.

Four years ago, the N.C. delegation stayed in a downtown hotel. This year, they were assigned to a chain hotel off the interstate in a suburb called Greenwood Village.

The biggest name N.C. Democrats have attracted to address their daily delegation breakfast so far has been Bill Halter, the lieutenant governor of Arkansas.

But the largest letdown may be a psychic one. After years in which Democrats complained that North Carolina's most famous politician was Republican Jesse Helms, they thought they had finally found a new face for Tar Heel politics in Edwards.

“When I was in New Hampshire, I was so proud to be from North Carolina,” said former state Sen. Linda Gunter, 58, of Cary.

Democrats in Denver speak in almost hushed tones about Edwards, as if they were talking about the deceased or the mortally ill. When asked about Edwards, they offer condolences to his family and then let the subject quickly drop.

Edwards is not here, of course. His wife, Elizabeth, was initially listed as a speaker at a health care forum scheduled for today, but sponsors say she is not expected to attend.

Although there have been national reports that Edwards has been calling former supporters and staffers to apologize to them, none of the N.C. Democrats here say they have talked to him.

Ed Turlington, a Raleigh attorney who had been Edwards' general campaign chairman, said Edwards had tried to get in touch with him but they had not yet connected.

“What I feel is sadness – sadness that he is not here,” Turlington said. “That an important voice on economic issues is not being heard.”

There are a small number of Edwards delegates at the convention, votes he picked up in Iowa and South Carolina before dropping out of the race.

Arlene Prather, 54, a nurse from Cedar Falls, Iowa, said she would not judge Edwards.

“I'm disappointed,” she said, “but I can't tell what was going on his life that he made the wrong choice.

“We all make mistakes. This one was a doozy.”