The genius in Elizabeth Edwards being Elizabeth Edwards, in the campaign's sanctioning her role as the Edwards who speaks truth to the Clinton's power, is that she is a stealth fighter -- capable of dropping bombs but extremely hard to shoot down. Her national popularity, combined with the sensitivty around her ongoing battle with cancer, do not make her vulnerable to counterattacks. Woman to woman, she can stand up to Hillary Clinton and even peel Democratic women away from the frontrunner. Even if Hillary Clinton was inclined to respond to Edwards's jibes about feminism, doing so would be frought with risk.
(Compare this dynamic to Bill Clinton's role in questioning Barack Obama's credentials. Bill Clinton is a tough messenger for Obama to rebut.)
The downside of this approach is that she is arguably** a more popular, more respected public figure than her husband. ** = very arguably. I haven't found polling to support this contention. So -- ignore this sentence entirely.
Generally, a spouse appears in a campaign ad to fill in a picture, or to inflect a certain quality in her hubby that has been lost, or that needs to be heightened. Ann Romney's ads for Mitt Romney highlight his warm, fuzzies -- his humanity, his devotion to his family, his Judeo-Christio(Mormon) everyman side. With Ann Romney, there's no concern that she'll eclipse the principal.
In the new New Hampshire ad, Elizabeth Edwards employs all of the trigger points -- cancer, family, her own steel will -- to vouch for her husband's inner toughness. "I've been blessed," she narrates, "for the last thirty years to be married to the most optimistic person that I've known."
But "at the same time, he has an unbelievable toughness, particularly about other people, and that is, his ability to fight for them. They're not going to outsmart him. He works harder than any human being I know. Always has. It's unbelievably important that in our president we have someone who can stare the worst in the face. And not blink."
The catch. On a conference call this morning, an NBC News reporter asked Edwards deputy campaign manager Jonathan Prince whether Elizabeth Edwards has become the "dominant" voice of the campaign.
(Eclipsing? Emasculating her husband? Granting voters permission to compare John TO Elizabeth?)
"That's silly," Prince responded.
"Clearly, John Edwards is clearly the most dominant voice of this campaign."
Later, the AP's Beth Fouhy asked whether Elizabeth was (in Joe Klein's phrase) a "bulletproof cannon" and who would assume the attack dog role against Hillary Clinton.
Prince accused Fouhy of responding to Matt Drudge's characterization of Elizabeth's interview with Salon, rather than what Elizabeth said.
"No, I actually read the article," said Fouhy.
Trippi interrupted: "Shock, surprise, breaking news, Elizabeth Edwards supports her husband."
Mark Halperin wanted to know if John Edwards agreed with everything Elizabeth said in her Salon interview.
And ABC's David Muir asked whether there wasn't an element of sexism in the focus on Elizabeth v. HRC.
"That's a question for all of you to ask yourselves," Prince said.
And Muir asked about the CNN-WMUR poll that characterizes Edwards's position in the state as "sputtering."
"We'd characterize that poll as July," Prince said.
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