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Inside Politics

Schneider: Elizabeth Edwards may be husband's biggest asset

Story Highlights

• Elizabeth Edwards has cancer in rib but her husband will continue to campaign
• Schneider: By appearing with husband, it shows she supports decision
• Schneider: Crisis is an opportunity for Edwards to show he can face challenges
From Bill Schneider
CNN Senior Political Analyst
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The personal is now political. We hear that all the time. Elizabeth Edwards has been called John Edwards' greatest campaign asset. That may have been true Thursday with her display of courage and confidence.

As she addressed a crowd of reporters in North Carolina about her cancer coming back, was she making a political statement? Of course she was. Just by showing up.

"One of the reasons to do a press conference as opposed to a press release is so that you can see, I don't look sickly, I don't feel sickly," she said. (Watch the Edwardses say his political campaign will continue Video)

Mrs. Edwards was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. She went to the hospital on Monday for pain in her side and doctors saw something suspicious in her X-ray. The Edwards were told on Wednesday that the cancer had returned to her bones.

By talking about the ordeal herself, Elizabeth Edwards made it clear that she was very much behind her husband's decision to continue his campaign.

Otherwise, if he had just gotten up and said, "I'm continuing with my campaign, we'll put out a statement,'' he might have been criticized for not taking his wife's condition seriously enough. The fact that she was there, by his side, made all the difference: it was their decision, not his.

Her husband was making a political statement, too, by not saying anything about his campaign until he was asked. When a reporter asked Edwards if he was going to suspend any campaign activities, he replied, "No."

A campaign is a series of tests. Edwards portrayed this as one more. "The maturity and the judgment that's required of the president, especially in these historic times, requires the President to be able to function and focus under very difficult circumstances,'' he said.

This also proves something about him, his wife said: "He has an unbelievable toughness, a reserve that allows him to push forward with what needs to happen."

Edwards hopes success in the early, small-state contests will propel him to victory. Success in those contests depends on personal campaigning, something Edwards was very good at in 2004. New Hampshire State Democratic Party Chair Kathy Sullivan agreed. "People in New Hampshire, when they got to know John Edwards, really started to like him," she said.

That could be even more true this time. Standing with his wife, Edwards said, "We will be in this every step of the way, together.''

In the past, Edwards has been criticized as a rich populist who lives in a mansion. But now it's going to be very hard for anyone to portray him as isolated from the real-life problems ordinary people face.

"We've been confronted with these kind of traumas and struggles already in our life,'' Edwards said.

And we know from our previous experience that when this happens, you have a choice. You can go in the corner and hide, or, you can be tough and go out there and stand up for what you believe in.''

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John Edwards attends the 2004 Kennedy Center Honors with his wife, Elizabeth, who has been active in his campaigns.

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