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Elephant in the room: Delegates buzz about Edwards

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DENVER — Former Sen. John Edwards is hard for North Carolina delegatesat the Democratic National Convention to ignore, even if most aretrying their best.

Many Democrats had hoped that Denver would be Edwards' crowning moment,where he would accept the presidential nomination that eluded him fouryears earlier. But evidence of Edwards' fall — his defeat in thepresidential primary and his subsequent sex scandal — is tangible.

Four years ago in Boston, when Edwards was the vice presidentialnominee, the North Carolina delegation had prime seats near theconvention's rostrum. This year, the delegation has been banished tonose-bleed seats — high up even for the Mile High City. On one side ofNorth Carolina is the delegation from Arizona, the home of Republicanpresidential nominee John McCain. On the other side is the delegationfrom Texas, home of President Bush.

Four years ago, the North Carolina delegation stayed downtown. Thisyear, the delegates are in a chain hotel off the interstate in asuburb.

The biggest name North Carolina Democrats have attracted to addresstheir daily delegation breakfast has been Bill Halter, the lieutenantgovernor of Arkansas.

The largest letdown may be a psychic one. After years in whichDemocrats complained that North Carolina’s most famous politician wasRepublican Jesse Helms, they thought they had finally found a new facefor Tar Heel politics.

"When I was in New Hampshire, I was so proud to be from NorthCarolina," said former state Sen. Linda Gunter, 58, a retired teacherfrom Cary. Gunter campaigned in several states during Edwards’presidential runs.

Democrats in Denver speak in hushed tones about Edwards, as though theyare talking about the deceased. They offer condolences to his familyand then let the subject drop.

Edwards is not here. His wife, Elizabeth, was initially listed as aspeaker at a health care forum scheduled for Wednesday, but sponsors sayshe is not expected to attend.

Although there have been national reports that Edwards has been callingformer supporters and staffers to apologize for lying about an affairwith a former campaign staffer, none of the North Carolina Democratshere say they have talked to him.

U.S. Rep. David Price, whose district includes Edwards’ Orange Countyhome, said he had not been called. Nor has Rep. Mel Watt of Charlotte,who was a key supporter. "I'm surprised and saddened by it," saidPrice.

Added Watt: "I know this is a very difficult time for him and his wife.He needs to be looking internally at this point, not worrying aboutme."

Ed Turlington, a Raleigh lawyer who was Edwards' general campaignchairman, said Edwards tried to get in touch but they had notconnected.

"What I feel is sadness, sadness that he is not here," Turlington said."That an important voice on economic issues is not being heard."

There are a few Edwards delegates at the convention, votes he picked upin Iowa and South Carolina before dropping out.

"It was disappointing," said Rob Groce, 40, of Summerville, S.C. "Butwhat was more disappointing to me was that his wife and family had togo through this all over again."

Arlene Prather, 54, a nurse from Cedar Falls, Iowa, said she would notjudge Edwards.

"I can't tell what was going on his life that he made the wrongchoice," she said. "We all make mistakes. This one was a doozy."

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