WASHINGTON — Democratic candidate John Edwards's decision to continue his 2008 presidential campaign, despite a diagnosis of a recurrence of illness in his wife, adds a new dimension to an already complex battle for his party's nomination.
Elizabeth Edwards was diagnosed with cancer again on Wednesday, after being given a clean bill of health last year following her earlier bout with breast cancer that began in 2004. At the Edwardses' press conference Thursday afternoon in their hometown of Chapel Hill, N.C., the couple spoke about her diagnosis and about how it would affect the former senator's presidential bid.
Former Senator Edwards, with Elizabeth standing at his side, said the rigors of the campaign would not affect his wife's treatment or her prospects, promising that he would be with her whenever he needs to be.
"Both of us are committed to the cause," the candidate said. "We are committed to changing the country that we love so much, and we have no intention of cowering in the corner."
Edwards has been polling a strong third in the Democratic primary races, and in some early nominating states – such as Iowa and South Carolina – was making a serious play for first among Democratic voters. Edwards was born in South Carolina and won his only primary victory there in 2004.
Edwards's decision to stay in the race could open him to criticism that he is putting his political ambitions ahead of his family.
But in their joint appearance, the Edwardses sought to allay that impression by showing a united front. Mrs. Edwards spoke, too, of her and her family's commitment to the race. Both Edwardses explained in detail the circumstances that led to the discovery of her latest illness, and her prognosis. Mrs. Edwards said she is asymptomatic and will continue to take part in the campaign. The Edwardses have two young children, in addition to an adult daughter.
Another possibility for Mr. Edwards is that, given the news, he gets a second look from voters who may have begun to see the Democratic nomination race as between Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois. While Edwards has carved out a constituency among union members, an important part of the Democratic base, he has had a hard time of late breaking through the intense media attention to the battle between the top two candidates.
Mrs. Edwards has been an integral part of her husband's campaigns from the start. A lawyer like her husband, she is also his closest political confidante, helping him to make key campaign decisions. Her personal challenges – her health struggles, the loss of her and her husband's teenage son in a car accident, and her challenges with weight – have made her into a a figure that American women can relate to. Last September, she published a book, "Saving Graces: Finding Solace and Strength from Friends and Strangers."