Campaign Presses Forward In The Face Of Cancer, Its Impact A Question

WASHINGTON (AP) _ John and Elizabeth Edwards stood side-by-side in the North Carolina sunshine to announce that her cancer was back and that his run for the presidency would go forward at full speed. <br/><br/>It

Friday, March 23rd 2007, 9:54 am

By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ John and Elizabeth Edwards stood side-by-side in the North Carolina sunshine to announce that her cancer was back and that his run for the presidency would go forward at full speed.

It was a sympathetic tableau that drew an immediate outpouring of well wishes from people of all political persuasions.

``You can cower in the corner and hide or you can be tough and go out there and stand up for what you believe in,'' Edwards said. His wife said her illness was a hurdle they would surmount together.

That sort of can-do optimism in a grim and unavoidable situation may well bring short-term benefits to a campaign trying to keep up with Democratic heavy-hitters Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama. But the longer-term political ramifications of his pursuing the presidency during her health crisis are unknown, and could well hinge on Mrs. Edwards' health.

If Mrs. Edwards is able to campaign at his side with energy and vigor, there could well be a positive reaction to the resolute candidate and his wife, who press forward despite adversity. Millions of Americans themselves have faced cancer or know someone who has, and can identify with their challenge.

``It makes him real,'' said Democratic strategist Dane Strother. ``It makes her real.''

Still, Mrs. Edwards' illness injects a new element of uncertainty into the campaign, and political calculations could quickly change should her condition worsen significantly.

Already, there was a foreshadowing of that in critics' blog postings Thursday that questioned whether a presidential campaign is the right place for a man with two small children and a wife with cancer.

Edwards stressed that doctors had assured them the campaign would not interfere with his wife's treatment, and added: ``Any time, any place I need to be with Elizabeth I will be there _ period.''

Democratic pollster Mark Mellman said that while the disclosure of Mrs. Edwards' illness could generate short-term interest in the Edwards campaign, it probably doesn't change the long-term dynamic significantly.

``A lot will depend on how people react, and anybody that tries to tell you how people are going to react is making it up,'' Mellman added. ``It is an unusual situation, and we're out of the realm of clear historical precedent.''

Edwards' fundraiser Fred Baron speculated that financial support for the campaign could even increase ``in the sense that more people will truly get to know John and Elizabeth Edwards.'' He said the sponsor of a private fundraiser for Edwards on Thursday night in New York told Baron after the announcement that he was doubling his fundraising goal for the event. Neither the amount nor the identity of the fundraiser was released.

Democratic consultant Chris Lehane said candidates often are measured by how they respond in the heat of a stressful moment. In this case, he said, the Edwardses handled things ``about as well as you can handle a situation like this,'' by being forthright, quick to respond and making clear that it was Elizabeth Edwards' decision for the campaign to go forward.

``These are situations where voters extrapolate an awful lot about a candidate's character,'' Lehane said. Those who might have questioned whether Edwards had the toughness to be president could well draw a lesson from how he handles this situation, Lehane added.

Edwards is not the only candidate running for president in the shadow of a spouse's incurable health problems. Ann Romney was diagnosed in 1998 with multiple sclerosis, a progressive nerve disease that she says she's kept under control but has left her fatigued during her husband Mitt's GOP presidential campaign.

``Were she not healthy I would not have run,'' Romney told the AP last month. ``She is able to manage her disease such that she does not overdo or cause herself physical problem. Were that not the case, we'd have made a different decision. We'd be in the sun somewhere.''

Mrs. Edwards, 57, was first diagnosed with breast cancer in the final weeks of the 2004 campaign. She underwent several months of radiation and chemotherapy. This week, doctors found the cancer had returned, and was in one of her ribs. Doctors don't know exactly how widespread the cancer is, but will be watching some other suspicious spots.

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