JOHN EDWARDS AND ELIZABTH ANANIA EDWARDS
Married Since: 1977
Family Album: Two sons (one died in 1996) and two daughters
On the surface, Elizabeth Edwards would seem to be the exact opposite of the ideal political spouse. Hardly meek, she's a smart and independent attorney who doesn't spend too much time worrying about her appearance, and talks openly about her struggles with weight loss. Yet she's often described as her husband's "secret weapon."
"She's presumably very bright, very competent, and she knows how to keep from upstaging him," says Frank Pittman, a psychiatrist and family therapist in private practice in Atlanta and the author of Private Lies: Infidelity and the Betrayal of Intimacy.
In the 2004 election, "Elizabeth was very much there as someone who had suffered and who had stood by her guy," says family therapist Terrence Real, author of The New Rules of Marriage. "It was kind of like the clean version of Hillary." Women of all backgrounds seemed to identify with her, and her reputation soared as Teresa Heinz Kerry's popularity sank.
During her 2006 book tour for Saving Graces, Elizabeth was embraced as a celebrity—a remarkable accomplishment for the spouse of a defeated vice presidential candidate. She's appealing on her own and as a partner in what seems to be an exceptionally loving marriage. Surviving hard times—especially the death of their oldest son, Wade, in a car accident—appears to have strengthened the couple's bond. When they talk about each other, even a casual viewer senses genuine passion. "You feel about them that this isn't just phony baloney," says Real.