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Wednesday, June 27, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Edwards' wife talks of war, gay marriage, alleged fund misuse

Seattle Times staff reporter

Elizabeth Edwards has been working crowds on the national campaign circuit with a comedian's sense of timing and a politician's sense of expediency.

As Edwards toured Iowa with her husband, Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards, she cracked jokes about his $400 haircut. At Sunday's Gay Pride Parade in San Francisco, she endorsed gay marriage, a more radical position than his support of same-sex civil unions.

Visiting Seattle for two days, however, Edwards took a breather from the crowds, outlining to reporters her husband's stance on gay marriage, criticizing the current lack of leadership concerning Iraq and disputing claims that he misused money from his anti-poverty nonprofit for campaign travel.

She also attended a private fundraiser Tuesday with about 50 supporters before heading to Portland.

Edwards said her husband has taken a hard stance on Iraq and is aggressive in responding to his opponents about the war to educate voters about his position.

"He makes distinctions, but there are no bold attacks" on other candidates, she said.

She said her husband, if elected, would quickly pull troops from Iraq.

"If John were president, he'd instruct the Joint Chiefs of Staff to immediately begin removing 40 or 50,000 troops," with an aim of mobilizing them as in as little as seven months, she said.

Edwards said the couple's divergent stance on gay marriage stems from their different upbringings and said such conflicts are typical in families.

"I had a more eclectic background. I grew up seeing lots of places, lots of different lifestyles," she said. "John was raised in Southern mill towns — conservative places."

She said she is not sure whether she'll be able to persuade him to support gay marriage but said she hopes it will be a short-lived struggle.

"I think it's a journey we're all on as a country," Edwards said. "Our daughter, who is 25, says this will not be an issue when this generation takes the White House."

Edwards explained she acts as an adviser and a sounding board to her husband. No issues are off-limits, she said, but he has the final call.

"He's the person that's running for president," she said. "Ultimately, he's the decision maker. I'm honestly just an honest broker for him."

Edwards sharply criticized a New York Times article published Friday that suggested her husband had paid for a trip to New Hampshire with money from his organization, the Center for Promise and Opportunity.

The article was deemed "totally inaccurate" and "unfair" not just by her husband's supporters or "by people who are familiar with his work against poverty, but also by people from the right," she said.

Edwards, who discovered this year that her breast cancer has returned and is incurable, smiled broadly as she spoke of her disease, saying she wants to be visible on the campaign trail.

"People can see that I do not look sick, do not act sick. I'm asymptomatic," she said. "I feel more energetic."

In Seattle, she hit the streets at Pike Place Market, returning to some favorite haunts from when she visited with her family in 1995.

"We went back to every place we took a picture in" on the first trip, she said, and shopped for T-shirts.

Roxana Popescu: 206-464-2112 or rpopescu@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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