Cate Edwards makes her case

Harvard Law student finds time for father's campaign

Email|Print| Text size + By Jenn Abelson
Globe Staff / November 7, 2007

She juggles her classes, court appearances for the Legal Aid Bureau, and work on a website start-up. It is a full schedule for any Harvard Law student, but Cate Edwards is also trying to help her father get elected president.

When John Edwards ran in the 2004 election, Cate was a senior at Princeton University and spent little time campaigning so she wouldn't miss out on her final year. Three years later, she is a second-year law student, and this time she is trying to do it all.

This fall, Edwards, 25, scheduled her three classes - advocacy; evidence; and child, family, and state law - in the middle of the week, leaving Mondays and Fridays free for campaign trips.

In August, days before school started, Edwards joined her family for a four-day jaunt through New Hampshire, stopping at 15 events and blogging from the bus the entire time. In late September, she left campus for a weekend in Iowa, visiting with Hawkeye fans at the University of Iowa in Iowa City for a homecoming tailgate party and crisscrossing the state to talk to students in other college towns.

On Friday, Edwards will hit the college circuit again in New Hampshire with Kate Michelman, former head of the abortion rights group NARAL. Edwards plans to spend more time on the campaign trail in January, closer to the first nomination contests.

Other Democratic contenders are also vigor ously courting college students. Last week, Hillary Clinton, in visits to Wellesley College and the University of New Hampshire, unveiled an effort to organize campus groups. Barack Obama has made a big push, principally through Students for Barack Obama chapters his campaign has helped start. In Iowa, Obama's campaign has set up Barack Stars groups at high schools, trying to take advantage of a rule that allows anyone who will be 18 by Election Day in November 2008 to vote in the Jan. 3 caucuses.

Clinton's daughter, Chelsea, has been noticeably absent from her campaign so far. Cate Edwards, on the other hand, has been one of the most active of the presidential candidates' adult children, besides Mitt Romney's five sons.

"Young people can too easily get written off, and it's important for me to give them a voice. Young people really do care and want to be involved in what's going on in our country," said Cate Edwards, interviewed at Harvard Law's student center on her second cup of coffee. Her broad smile, which is like her father's, grew wider and her voice got louder as nearby students hunkering over books began to notice her. "They need someone to pay attention to them."

Edwards says she doesn't like the limelight or enjoy speaking to large groups. But she has been on the big stage, most visibly at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston before thousands of delegates and millions of television viewers. With her college friends in the front rows, she introduced her mother, who spoke before her father, the vice presidential nominee, gave his speech.

Cate Edwards said she feels compelled to be more deeply involved in this campaign because of her mother's battle with cancer, which started the same day as the bitter 2004 election defeat, and her brother's death in a car crash eight years earlier.

"We've been through a lot as a family, most recently with my mom's cancer. We all got through my brother's death when I was 14 hanging onto one another," she said. "I want to give back whatever strength I can to them."

Sometimes, Edwards said, her busy schedule crowds out the campaign. For example, she recently volunteered at the law school's Legal Aid Bureau - where she typically handles three cases at once, spends time there on weekends, and gets some class credits - instead of helping a student phone bank on campus to solicit campaign donations.

"It's a balancing act," said Edwards, who also sits on the board of the Harvard Law Democrats. "It all hinges on your organizational skills, which will be tested for me during this campaign."

Edwards still finds time for a website she started with a friend,, an online directory for newcomers to New York City, where she lived for two years and worked as an editorial assistant at Vanity Fair magazine after graduating from Princeton. It recommends spots for after-work drinks, places to get bikini waxes, and other trendy offerings that out-of-towners might have trouble finding.

She is hoping to expand the site to other cities, including Boston and Washington, D.C. (Some favorite local tips so far: brunch at Sonsie in the Back Bay, drinks at Grendel's Den in Harvard Square, and miniburgers at Match in the Back Bay.)

Cate Edwards has always had a lot on her agenda. But this could be the busiest time of her life. For example, after she finished a round of interviews at law firms in the capital for an internship next summer, Edwards flew to Boston, then drove to New Hampshire, where her parents were campaigning, arriving just in time for the family's Christmas card photo.

"It's an incredible amount that Cate is undertaking at any one time. She does what seems to be twice the amount of anyone I know and she never complains," said Catesby Perrin, 25, a Princeton friend who is in his first year at Harvard Law. "I talked to her one afternoon on the phone and didn't even know she had been on the 'Today' show earlier that day until my dad said he saw her on the show."

After spending hours on campus or studying at Peet's Coffee & Tea in Harvard Square, Edwards retreats home to the first-floor apartment of a house near Harvard Square that she shares with her freshman roommate from Princeton, Sunjung Kim. Despite the breathless pace of her days, Edwards's nights are often spent with Kim, eating dinner while watching recorded episodes of the teen television drama "One Tree Hill." When she does party, Cate, who has a boyfriend in Washington, D.C., is often the one rallying her friends. She made it to at least two Halloween parties during the busy school week - first dressed as Meredith Grey, the whiny doctor from the hit TV series "Grey's Anatomy," and then as a schoolgirl. The next morning, Edwards was out the door by 8 on her way to court for a Legal Aid case. Kim said she was just getting out of bed. "She makes it look so graceful. I'll wake up and hear her giving an interview outside on the porch," said Kim, 25, who is also in her second year at Harvard Law. "When you tally up the hours you've wasted, it doesn't add up as much for her as it does for me and most other people."

Kim, Perrin, and several other friends plan to spend winter break in New Hampshire, taking the same trip they did senior year at Princeton. They stood shivering on street corners holding signs and knocking on doors to persuade voters to support John Edwards as Cate campaigned with her parents. "You can make it work. You can make anything work," Edwards said. "It's better to be busy than be bored."

Jenn Abelson can be reached at

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