(crossposted at DitchMitchKY)
I’m not really sure how many supporters John Edwards had in Lexington on Friday morning, but I know that he has a lot more now. The line on John Edwards that is making the rounds is that his best asset in the campaign to win the presidency is not his humble Southern background, health-care platform or charm, but his wife, Elizabeth Edwards. After watching her performance during Friday’s Small Change for Big Change event in Lexington, I think that statement isn’t too far off base.
Elizabeth Edwards performed a rather spectacular hour+ Q & A session with over 200 contributors, fans, and potential voters. And due to the online outreach efforts of the Edwards campaign (thanks to Tracy and Amy, via DMKY’s Shawn Dixon) and the southern charm of DMKY’s own Jim Pence, Jim and I were able speak with Elizabeth face to face for roughly 10 minutes before her public Q & A session.
Though the Edwards staff thought we had a decent chance of chatting with her for a couple of minutes, shortly after we entered the venue and set up our cameras (Jim and fellow film guru Erica), we were told that there was no time for an interview. After Jim disappeared for a few minutes to chat up the Edwards folks, he came back saying that she might be doing a short "meet and greet" with some people.
"What’s a meet and greet?"
"I’m not sure"
"I’ve never been to a meet and greet"
"Yea, me neither"
Ten minutes later, Jim pulled me backstage and one of the staff stopped us and asked if we were the guys from DitchMitchKY and told us that we could speak with Mrs. Edwards in a few minutes, but not on camera or on tape. So while all of the slick, dolled up TV reporters waited for Elizabeth to come out for the Q & A, the blogger in ratty Chuck Taylors and ripped pants, and the hillbilly with the Acapulco shirt were whisked upstairs to meet her.
Elizabeth was set up to be interviewed by Wolf Blitzer on CNN, but she had about 10 minutes until she went on the air. She jogged over to us and Jim laid on the charm, thanking her for signing her book for his wife. Seeing me nervously glance at my notebook, she asked if I had some questions. I told her that I would be the only interviewer in the next 2 weeks to not ask her about that skinny Nazi bitch (she looked relieved).
I said that it’s been a long time since KY has had a Democratic presidential candidate who’s even come close to winning and asked how John’s rural platform might resonate with Kentucky’s voters. She said "well, first of all, he’s the only candidate with a rural platform". She told us how rural America has been ignored and abandoned, and how John would focus on revitalizing the communities that have been destroyed by companies shutting down factories and moving overseas. Elizabeth also spoke of how John’s humble southern background, even his accent, might give him an advantage here. But she also explained how his accent works against him in other states and how people from the south are often stereotyped because of their accent.
I then asked her about John’s health care plan, mentioning how SiCKO was released that day and deals with not only those who are not insured, but those who have insurance, only to find out when they get sick that it is worthless. She explained how Medicare Plus will be allowed to compete with the private insurers in order to decrease prices. Jim mentioned how his wife found herself in the Medicare D "doughnut hole" and how they now bought their prescription drugs from Canada to save a bundle of money. Elizabeth said that you’d be insane not to and mentioned how John would get rid of that ridiculous restriction.
I noted that she is probably more engaged with the political blogosphere than any other person involved in the presidential race. Elizabeth explained that her interest and activity with the blogosphere is something that would be present whether John was running for president or not. She is a genuine fan and participant in this area, and has greatly enjoyed interacting with people on DailyKos and elsewhere (though she will sadly not be at YearlyKos this summer). Suddenly, her aide announced that CNN was about go to her, and she raced back to the set as we thanked her for her time.
After her Wolf Blitzer interview and her intro from the new Chairman of the KY Democratic Party, Jonathan Miller, she came out to meet her supporters. She gave a brief hello introduction, noting that she hoped that John would be battling the Republican opponent next Fall in Kentucky while helping the Democratic candidate ditch Mitch McConnell in the Senate race down ballot (to big applause). Then she opened her very impressive question and answer session.
Let me note that this is not your typical presidential spouse. She handled the various political questions with excellent detail, as well as just about any candidate that you’re going to run into. Laura Bush, she’s not. From coal to Medicare to immigration to fair trade to voter fraud, she had the details to every issue down pat and was quite persuasive. She noted how John would not have any new coal factories, and coal was part of the past, not the future. She noted how any immigration reform that fines already poverty stricken people thousands of dollars will not bring them out of the shadows. And any guest worker program that ties workers to their employer with no rights for 2 years hurts both these workers and the American workers who lose bargaining power.
When asked about voter fraud, she applauded Florida’s rejection of the touch screen voting and remarked that if John wins the nomination, the election won’t be close enough to steal. Answering a question about NAFTA and fair trade, she explained how Edwards would renegotiate trade agreements to include worker and environmental standards in those countries. She also noted the insanity of giving tax breaks to companies so that they can downsize American workers and move their plants to other countries.
Two of the questioners spoke of the horrors that veterans of the Iraq War are facing once they get home. A mother spoke of how her son was given inadequate treatment for his emotional scars after he came home, and a VA nurse spoke of the budget and quality cutbacks that she had recently seen. Elizabeth said that such treatment was inexcusable and that John would make sure that there was one person in charge of overseeing each patient, and that person must be a veteran themselves.
One of the most touching moments (along with Jim’s video of the cancer survivor who gave Elizabeth her necklace that she had worn for 10 years to remind her of her battle) was Elizabeth’s response to a gay couple that thanked her for speaking out in favor of gay marriage. She explained how their relationship doesn’t threaten her relationship (you hear that Stan Lee?) and how she was baffled by the hatred and ignorance that they had to struggle against to gain their rights. She also noted that while in Las Vegas, she met a couple that was together for 37 years and had no legal rights, yet Britney Spears had legal rights when she was married for 54 hours. This was compared to the stem cell issue as well, where those on the right would rather have cells thrown into the trash rather than use them to find scientific cures. It just doesn’t make any sense.
The last questioner told her that he was a Republican that had lost his son to cancer. He wanted to thank her for handling the Coultergeist situation with such class and that he gained a great deal of respect for her in doing so. With that, she ended the hour and a half Q & A to a hearty applause. While we packed up the equipment and headed out, we realized the Elizabeth was still there in the middle of the room, shaking hands and taking pictures with supporters.
Making this performance all the more impressive is that she is doing this with stage 4 cancer. I’m pretty good at spotting phoniness, and I can tell you that this is someone who actually believes in what she says. This is someone who seriously loves her country and wants to see it change for the better, wants to see those left behind by the Bush administration taken care of, wants to live in a better world. And she cares about this so much, she is willing to put herself, illness and all, through the rigors of a nearly 2 year long campaign. If someone can’t respect that, they need to check themselves for a pulse.
Looking back at the whole day, I think her approach towards us and the audience speaks volumes. Instead of the big money banquet with the high-class Lexington old money bigwigs, she decided to have an event for $15 dollar contributors. Instead of wooing the Lexington mainstream media, she met with two local political bloggers. This is a deliberate attempt to follow the Howard Dean model of building support from the ground up. But I don’t think this approach is disingenuous. Elizabeth has a genuine ability and desire to interact with people on a personal level, and it’s quite clear to see.
While I remain an undecided at the moment (though Edwards remains tied in first), I stand by what I said before I met her Friday. If John Edwards’ wife was running, I know who my candidate would be.