Elizabeth Edwards Gets the Once-Over Lightly

A vacuum yawns before the campaign press. With the veepstakes at last put to bed, how ever will political reporters satisfy their lust for idle speculation?

Fear not. Comes now Elizabeth Edwards to the rescue. A new spouse on the campaign trail! Fresh meat! Pointless (and contradictory) “who’s-the-choice-for-running-mate” stories will quickly be replaced by pointless (and contradictory) stories putting Edwards under the same microscope that has already found Judith Steinberg Dean to be “unconventional,” Teresa Heinz Kerry to be “exotic” and Laura Bush to be … well, “Laura Bush.” (Look also for quick recyclings of the old asset/liability debate.)

The Charlotte Observer’s Anna Griffin got the ball rolling today, reporting that John Edwards’ wife is a “friend, fan, [and] major asset.” (What? She’s not a foe, detractor or major liability? What fun is that?)

Griffin and her sources see in Elizabeth Edwards shades of Teresa Heinz Kerry (she’s “candid,” Griffin reports, and “like Teresa Heinz Kerry, [she] is not the prototypical political wife. She says what she thinks, and she thinks a lot.”) and Hillary Clinton (“‘I expect it will be reminiscent of Bill and Hillary, and I mean that in a good way,’ said Wade Byrd, a family friend … ‘They’re best friends. She’s his No. 1 confidant. She’s the one whose opinion matters most to him.’”)

From Boston, however, Mrs. Edwards looks quite different — nothing at all, in fact, like either Mrs. Heinz Kerry or Mrs. Clinton. The Boston Herald’s David R. Guarino reports today that “Elizabeth Edwards is a dutiful political wife — calling herself a ‘window’ into her husband — in a very anti-Teresa and anti-Hillary way.” She is, Guarino writes, “a down-to-earth Southern belle who glows when speaking of her husband in contrast to the outspoken multimillionaire Teresa Heinz Kerry. Teresa talks about Botox and prenuptial agreements while Elizabeth jokes about her hair dye and struggling with her weight.”

For its part, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Elizabeth Edwards profile today paints yet a third picture, though one that touches on some of the same weighty issues as does the Herald. “[John Edwards] is 51 and foxy and could be 35,” the Inquirer’s Beth Gillin writes.”[Elizabeth Edwards] looks like a sleep-deprived 55-year-old mother of two young children who struggles with her weight and dyes her hair to keep the gray at bay.” Gillin also describes Edwards’ “no-nonsense way of tackling problems” — like her endearing habit of, “when she can’t find a pocket, she stuffs her cell phone in her bra.”

When she’s not “struggling with her weight,” “think[ing] a lot,” or stuffing phones into her underwear, Elizabeth Edwards does, all three stories report, find time to make Halloween costumes for her children.

Well, that certainly clears things up. Stay tuned for more insight and substance from the press corps.

Liz Cox Barrett

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.