I had the opportunity to meet Elizabeth Edwards a few minutes ago and wanted to post a diary of the experience, the questions asked by people at the event and Elizabeth's answers, and a picture I was thrilled to get at the event (on my crappy Sidekick, but all the same...).
Here's the picture! :)
Below the fold for the conversation that unfolded...
This was a small, private affair, before Elizabeth gives the keynote speech at tonight's Human Rights Campaign's San Francisco dinner gala event. She had just hopped out of a car after 3 hours' driving from Sacramento to San Francisco which, as she told us all, included a stop at a porta potty because there wasn't anything else along the highway, and sometimes there just aren't any better options.
She opened with brief remarks, saying how grateful she was to be there and how excited she is about the campaign right now. When I met her before she started speaking, she mentioned that she hadn't seen John in a while because they're criss-crossing the country, but that she'd see him tomorrow. The life of a candidate and a candidate's spouse!
- I was fortunate enough to get to ask her the first question. I asked her about a criticism I hear often of John, which is that his opinions now are more progressive than they've been in the past, and how can we be so sure he's going to be a President who's decisions reflect what we're hearing him say now?
- Her response included three things:
1) The conditions in the country have been changing, in ways for the worse, in the past several years, and therefore John has had a more strident and pointed response;
2) John's opinions have been evolving as well, such as his apology for his Iraq vote and his opinion today that it was a mistake; and,
3) Unlike in 2004, both John and Elizabeth are running this 2008 campaign without speechwriters and consultants, which has freed them up to speak their minds freely and without wishy-washy language
- The next question was about her position on gay marriage, which she recently stated that she thinks it's perfectly fine and should be legal. The questioner asked her whether she could influence John to fully support gay marriage (note: he currently supports federal legislation providing all the same legal rights as marriage, but calling it civil unions).
- Her response was that she and John were raised in very different backgrounds. Where she was brought up in a much more diverse community with different kinds of people in her life, he was raised in a small Southern Baptist town. Further, it wasn't until the past few years when he even became aware intrinsically of the real need here and, according to Elizabeth, has come a long way from where he had been.
- The next question was about strategy and whether John can really win given his current solid 3rd-place standing in the polls.
- Elizabeth was quite clear about this. First, she said, John will win Iowa. Second, she said, New Hampshire offers an opportunity after winning Iowa for John to boost his standing and (hopefully) come in first, if not a close second. Third, South Carolina, where John got 45% of the vote in 2004, will be a solid win for John. So, Elizabeth sees three wins in the first three states, with the Super Tuesday being, in some ways, a toss-up, but hopefully with the first few states having boosted his name, his viability, and his free media enough to put him in a solid position to win it.
- The next question was about John Edwards' health care plan and why he doesn't just endorse single-payer healthcare (this question struck me particularly strongly after having seen "SiCKO" last night... which I intend to diary soon...).
- Elizabeth stated that John's "Medicare Plus" proposal offers healthcare via the government in a way that won't just overwhelm the system with a bureaucratic mess. Instead, his "Medicare Plus" plan will build on the existing programs and will have a much lower overhead than private health insurance companies have. Additionally, Elizabeth stated that the one advantage of private healthcare - innovation - would continue to be present in the market and drive the government healthcare system to be more innovative, while still having lower overhead than private health insurance companies. She saw it as a win-win.
- Finally, there was a question about the Democrats and the South. There's been lots of discussion on DailyKos about just ignoring the South with books like "Whistling Past Dixie."
- Elizabeth was quite forceful when she said it's ridiculous of Democrats to just give 40% of the electorate to the Republicans and then essentially start from zero on the Democrats' end. I think she may have been exaggerating a bit on that point, but her larger point was that, when we don't advertise, campaign, and compete in states like Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and others, we give up any opportunity we might have for some strength in places. And then we're left with those few states we already take for granted and the battleground states where the GOP can now pour all their resources into defeating the Dems. I think her point was borne out in 2006, where competing in states like Nebraska, Wyoming, Kansas, Colorado, and others, even if we didn't win some of those, forced the GOP to spend money in places they might not have otherwise and allowed Dems to have a cash advantage in other battleground races which we did win.
It was a brief event, but really special. And it was particularly special for me as I look up to Elizabeth as an incredible woman who, by her example and by her words, is setting the gold standard in this campaign, whether you support John, Hillary, Barack, or anyone else.
Please feel free to comment below as you wish.