On any given day in the fall of 2007, John Edwards could be heard preaching his populist prose to Iowa voters who eagerly packed into lumber barns, VFW halls and Culver restaurants across the state.
His message was less about the two Americas of his 2004 campaign -- the haves and the have-nots -- and more about fighting for the middle class and ending poverty in America.
The Democratic candidate had spent nearly all of 2007 logging days in Iowa traveling across the state's 99 counties. He had every reason to believe he could be president. He felt the country would let then-Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama destroy each other and he would rise as the more experienced and safe nominee.
To many voters, Edwards could have been president of the United States. Five years later, the possibilities for Edwards are completely different.
Edwards' criminal trial begins Monday in Greensboro, North Carolina.
He is charged with six felony and misdemeanor counts related to the money dealings of his failed presidential campaign.
Among other things, the government alleges that Edwards "knowingly and willfully" received nearly $1 million in illegal campaign contributions to hide his pregnant mistress from the public so he could continue his presidential bid. Edwards acknowledges that while his actions were wrong, they were not illegal. He could face up to 30 years in prison.
Edwards met Rielle Hunter in early 2006 at bar at The Regency Hotel in New York City. Hunter approached Edwards, not believing it was him. Later that evening, Edwards and Hunter met again, privately. The man who consistently spoke about two Americas began living two lives.
Hunter describes herself as a filmmaker. Born Lisa Jo Druck, she is believed to be the inspiration of a party girl character in a Jay McInerny novel. The 40-something Rielle told Edwards that she could help his campaign. Edwards hired her to produce a few videos that would present the politician in a more relaxed manner. The videos were called "webisodes" and were posted to Edwards' campaign site.
In the first webisode, Edwards told Hunter on camera, "You train to be careful, to close off if it feels sensitive, to close off if it feels personal, and I have to tell myself, I'm trying hard to do it. But you know we're so conditioned. We're conditioned to say the same things ... we're conditioned to be political. And it's hard to shed all of that. I can be in the middle of being what feels real and authentic to me, and I'll get into a little reel, you know, in my head. I can see it happening, and I have to pull myself back out."
The clip resurfaced later on YouTube.
In the end, four webisodes were made. However, instead of showing Edwards in a new light, the flirtatious on-camera banter only highlighted just how close Edwards and Hunter had become. Staffers began to suspect that Hunter had become more than a videographer to Edwards. That thought was fueled by Edwards' insistence that Hunter be allowed to travel with him whenever either of them insisted.
Josh Brumberger was Edwards' chief of staff when Hunter traveled with the campaign. On several occasions, he talked to Edwards about Hunter's involvement with the campaign. One heated altercation ended with Edwards firing Brumberger, and by the fall of 2006, several longtime senior aides left the campaign amid Edwards' refusal to end his relationship with Hunter, as detailed in "Game Change," the book about the 2008 election.
On December 28, 2006, against the backdrop of a city trying to rebuild and revive itself, Edwards launched his presidential campaign in New Orleans. He vowed to strengthen the middle class, progressively end poverty and tackle the longstanding Democratic platform of health care.
But just as the campaign got off the ground, it hit turbulence. In March 2007, Elizabeth Edwards announced she had breast cancer for the second time and it was incurable. The Edwardses wound up continuing the campaign. In the weeks after the devastating discovery, internal campaign polling showed Edwards surging ahead of Clinton and Obama in Iowa.
Meanwhile, when the campaign klieg lights were off, Edwards and Hunter were still on. Over the course of the summer, Hunter had become pregnant. And to complicate things, Edwards was swimming in a pool of bad press -- he had received several $400 haircuts and had made a six-figure salary for working for a hedge fund that was linked to subprime lending and foreclosed homes.
Enter Rachel "Bunny" Mellon. The wealthy banking heiress and widow, who was once a close friend of Jacqueline Kennedy, had been a supporter of Edwards since the 2004 election. When she found out about the haircuts, she allegedly directed Andrew Young, Edwards' personal aide, to forward all bills to her.
In a note to Edwards received by Young, a person described in the indictment as Person C and believed to be Mellon wrote, "The timing of your telephone call