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Saint Elizabeth and the Ego Monster

On December 18, the tabloid published a follow-up to its October exposé, and this one was a doozy. Whereas the first story had not named Hunter, the new piece featured a photo of her six months pregnant, bore the headline “Update: John Edwards Love Child Scandal,” and claimed that Hunter had told “a close confidante that Edwards is the father of her baby!”

Team Edwards had known that the Enquirer story was coming for some time. Fred Baron, John’s friend and finance chair, had scrambled to coordinate statements from lawyers for the candidate and Hunter denying John’s paternity, which the piece included. It also introduced a new character to the drama: Edwards’s longtime personal aide, Andrew Young, who was asserting that he was the father.

The details in the article around Young’s involvement were as squirrelly as could be. The Enquirer reported that Hunter was living in a rented house near the home of Young, his wife, and his children in Governors Club, a gated community in Chapel Hill. When an Enquirer reporter confronted Young face to face, he first denied his identity and knowing Hunter—this despite the fact that the car she was driving was registered in his name—before announcing the next day through his attorney that he was the sire of the unborn baby. Drawing out the obvious implication, the story noted, “Some insiders wonder whether Young’s paternity claim is simply a cover-up to protect his longtime pal Edwards.”

The new Enquirer piece rocked the campaign to its core. Crazy as it sounded, the idea that Young was taking the fall for John had the deafening ring of truth. An attorney in his forties, Young had a history of run-ins with the law and a rumored alcohol problem. Though he’d done some fund-raising over the years, his main role with Edwards was menial: household chores, personal errands, airport runs for the family. His devotion to his boss was comically servile.

Edwards denounced the Enquirer piece vehemently to his staff. On the campaign bus, he railed at the tabloid: “How could they fucking say this? How could they do this to me? How could they do this to Elizabeth?”

Some Edwards aides believed John’s denials, thought the story was too far out to be true. But others decided to stop spinning the candidate’s disavowals to the media, so certain were they that their boss was lying. Too many of them knew that Young had talked openly about having had a vasectomy a few years back. A bit of math and a glance at a calendar made clear that Hunter had gotten pregnant around June, within months of the recurrence of Elizabeth’s cancer.

After the story broke, things went from bad to worse. John and Elizabeth were fighting all the time, sometimes all night long. On more than one occasion, she announced to the staff that she could no longer speak in public on her husband’s behalf or stay in the same hotel with him. Once, in the middle of the night, she woke up a trip director and commanded, Get me out of here! I’m not campaigning for this asshole another day!

At other times, Elizabeth seemed intent on convincing herself that Young was indeed the father. She ordered the campaign staff to assemble an elaborate chronology of the previous months, establishing the nights when Young and Hunter might have been in the same city. “When were they together?” she demanded. “We need to figure this out!”

One night in the last week before the caucuses, John and Elizabeth had dinner at Azalea, a fancy restaurant in downtown Des Moines, with Kim Rubey and David Ginsberg, two of the former aides from 2004 who’d left the campaign in large part because of the looming threat of Hunter. They had come to Iowa with mixed emotions and motives: to help their old colleagues handle the mammoth workload and to witness the final days of Edwards as a presidential candidate.

“Can you believe this is Andrew?” Elizabeth said over dinner. “How has Andrew done this to our family?” She solicited everyone’s opinion about Young and Hunter. Had Ginsberg and Rubey ever seen them together?

The two former aides squirmed in their seats and held their tongues—while John sat staring silently at them from across the table. Ginsberg and Rubey left the dinner astonished by Elizabeth’s herculean efforts at willingly suspending disbelief. But as disquieting for them as the scene was, even more disturbing was the possibility that they were wrong about how Edwards would fare in Iowa. What if he won? What would they do? What should they do?

The thought was occurring in the minds of many old Edwards hands, in Iowa and farther afield. The mainstream media, yet again, was determinedly ignoring the Enquirer. If that trend continued, there was still a chance that John could win the nomination—and thus deliver the White House to the GOP on a platter when the story eventually, inevitably, was proved true.