JOHNNY REID EDWARDS
He was born in 1953 and educated in North Carolina through graduation from law school. Building a legal reputation, largely in medical malpractice cases, he developed a persona as an advocate for “underdog” plaintiffs; this afforded him visibility and popularity in the Tar Heel state, coating a path to a political career.
Sadly, Edwards’ fall from grace following revelations of disturbing personal matters that came into the public domain was as dramatic as his meteoric rise in state and national politics.
Edwards’ walk-on music was John Mellencamp’s “Small Town.” Photogenic and folksy with a seemingly storybook marriage–“Elizabeth is the love of my life”–Edwards placed second behind eventual victor Barack Obama in the January 2008 Iowa caucuses but suspended his campaign just 4 weeks later after coming in third in the New Hampshire primary.
A polished orator seasoned as a successful litigator, Edwards advocated a number of progressive policies and positions focused on poverty, including housing vouchers and a national health system requiring all Americans to have health care. He supported a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants and college education for everyone. In 2005, Edwards reversed field and announced his opposition to the war in Iraq. He was a critic of Supreme Court nominees John Roberts and Samuel Alito.
Edwards presented as honest, dedicated to family, and well-groomed. As a Southern Democrat, he contrasted with a rough-hewn John Kerry in 2004, a Vietnam vet and protester, creating a geographically balanced ticket opposing GOP candidates George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. But Edwards’ later transgressions proved fatal, as they starkly betrayed the polished image he presented.
Rumors of personal troubles began emerging in 2007 concerning a child out of wedlock, born in 2008, conceived with a former mistress. He denied paternity for over two years before finally acknowledging the child in 2010. Meanwhile, his wife, Elizabeth, who had become very popular nationally, died of metastatic breast cancer in December 2010 after having been diagnosed in 2004. She had struggled publicly to forgive Edwards after learning about his affair. Edwards’ former mistress and her daughter, now 12, live in Palm Beach.
In 2011 Edwards was indicted by a federal grand jury on six felony charges, for collecting illegal campaign contributions, conspiracy, and making false statements. After a 2-month trial, he was found not guilty on one count, and the jury was deadlocked on the other five. The judge declared a mistrial.
Together with attorney David Kirby, an earlier law partner, Edwards returned to the practice of personal injury law in 2013, founding the firm Edwards Kirby LLP in Raleigh, N.C., where he practices today. His daughter, Cate, 38, married with two children, is the managing attorney for the firm’s San Diego office.
John Edwards is one of many politicians of the past 25 years whose public good works were consumed by private transgressions. The public’s loss of confidence was a harsh verdict on someone whose service may have made a difference to the nation.