Supporters: Edwards 'let them down'

CHARLOTTE -- From her front-row seat at the 2004 national convention, delegate Linda Gunter led the cheers when fellow N.C. Democrat John Edwards accepted his party's vice presidential nomination.

The former teacher from Cary, N.C., had spent a month trudging through the snows of New Hampshire for him.

Now, like other Carolinas delegates to next week's Democratic convention, she's dismayed by revelations about Edwards' affair with a former campaign worker.

"My bubble of enthusiasm for presidential politics was really deflated," says Gunter, 58. "Some people might get discouraged from getting involved because they really believed in him, and he let them down."

On Aug 8, Edwards acknowledged an affair with Rielle Hunter but denied tabloid reports of a "love child" and elaborate cover-up. His admission disappointed many Democrats and served as a distraction as presumed nominee Barack Obama tries to ensure a united and enthusiastic party at next week's convention in Denver.

Reactions from three-dozen Carolinas delegates range from outrage to continued support.

While Edwards says the affair ended in 2006, some delegates are bothered by the fact that he continued to campaign for president, even after the National Enquirer reported it last October.

"There is a feeling that it was very selfish of him to pursue the presidency knowing that this skeleton was in his closet," says Vinod Thomas, 32, of Cornelius. "The Democratic Party would be in a very tough position now if John Edwards was our nominee."

'We believed'

Four years ago, Betsy Wells of Kings Mountain joined Gunter in campaigning for Edwards in New Hampshire. They handed out N.C. peanuts and greeted his plane on a frigid Concord tarmac in the wee hours after his second-place showing in the Iowa caucuses.

"We believed in his message," Wells says. "Finally, a politician who had compassion for the plight of the middle-class who was not tied to Washington and big corporations...

"Now the people won't remember the programs he put forward. They'll just remember now that he had an affair when his wife was so sick."

When Edwards dropped out of the 2008 presidential race in January, Charlotte delegate Marc Friedland switched his support to Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York. Now he wonders if Edwards' presence cost Clinton the nomination. Edwards finished behind Obama but ahead of Clinton in January's Iowa caucuses.

"With 20-20 hindsight, I think it definitely would have had an impact," says Friedland, 59. "If Edwards had not been in the Iowa (caucuses), it's very likely that Hillary would have won."

At a Charlotte book-signing last year, Friedland asked Edwards what it takes to get good people to run for office. Edwards talked about the importance of character.

"He was saying that while he knew very well what was going on in his own life," Friedland says. "He was reckless....delusional."

Retired teacher Susan Campbell, 56, of Winston-Salem was an Edwards delegate in 2004. She liked his description of "two Americas" and his apparent commitment to fighting poverty.

"I just expected he believed all those things," she says. "I didn't expect him to be so caught up in himself. It's not just the affair, it's the cover-up. We don't know the truth."

Democrats don't expect the scandal to affect other races. Neither does John Hood, president of the John Locke Foundation, a conservative Raleigh think tank.

"I certainly know some Democrats who feel personally outraged," he says. "But they're a lot more angry at George W. Bush than they are at John Edwards or the National Enquirer or anybody else."

According to a new Carolinas Poll, Bush had the support of only 31 percent of people in states he twice won with overwhelming margins.

The revelations won't stop S.C. delegate Mike Evatt from wearing his Edwards' T-shirt in Denver. In fact, he's bringing two.

Evatt, 45, works in a manufacturing plant in Seneca, the town Edwards was born in. In 2004 and 2008, he ran Edwards' Oconee County campaigns. And when Evatt's wife Kelly died from a sudden heart attack last month, John and Elizabeth Edwards were the first to send flowers.

Their peace lily still sits in the sunlight of his dining room.

"Just because he made a mistake over two years ago don't give me a right to be ashamed of him," Evatt says. "He and Elizabeth are my friends. You're not very much of a friend if you turn your back ... when they have trouble."