Candidate’s Daughter Finds Time for Law School

Cate Edwards juggles her family, the campaign, and her studies.

Unnamed photo
Emma S Winer

Cate Edwards, who helped her father on his '04 campaign trail, takes time out from her studies at Harvard Law School to help his new Presidential bid.

Between making new friends and mastering torts, starting law school is never easy. Add in an online fashion blog and a father who is running for president, and you have a situation that even Elle Woods may not be able to handle. But Cate Edwards, a first-year at Harvard Law School and the eldest daughter of Democratic candidate John Edwards, says her life is not “as hard as you would think.”

A veteran of her father’s failed 2004 run for the vice presidency, Edwards is no stranger to the campaign trail. With the first Democratic primary less than nine months away, she has continued to play an active role in her father’s run, despite a full slate of courses and the announcement that her mother, Elizabeth, is again being treated for cancer. Facing fresh obstacles and new opponents, Edwards says that her support of her father and family remains just as strong.

UNDER THE SPOTLIGHT

Growing up in a high profile political family, Edwards has faced more public attention than your average 25-year-old.

“There are times when it’s strange,” Edwards says, noting that a stranger once proposed to her in a bar. “And there are times when they are comforting.”

During an event on the 2004 campaign trail, she was confronted by her high school celebrity crush Leonardo DiCaprio, who happens to be an active supporter of Democratic causes.

“I think he gave me a chocolate rose, which he stole from a centerpiece of a table. And I was totally freaking out,” she says.

But Edwards says she thinks the excess media attention paid to the children of politicians can be unwarranted.

“I think it’s unfair to scrutinize the children of politicians. It’s not a life that you would choose for yourself,” Edwards says.

She cites her “really wonderful support system” as an important part of her life. “Having that support around you is really a safety net in case you ever slip or if anything ever becomes too overwhelming,” she says. “It is truly that which makes it doable.”

That support system has been tested this year, after the family announced in March that Elizabeth Edwards, Cate’s mother, had again been diagnosed with breast cancer. She first underwent treatment for the disease after the 2004 campaign.

Elizabeth Edwards, who also watches over the family’s two youngest children, has continued to publicly campaign for her husband.

“It’s certainly not like either of my parents to give up something they believe in. I still feel really good about the campaign and my mother’s health,” Edwards says.

Edwards’ law school roommate Sun Jung Kim recalls the day that news broke of Elizabeth Edwards’ cancer. The former senator’s wife flew to Cambridge to be near her daughter.

“The conversation that I saw happen, it was the same tone of optimism that I saw in front of the news cameras and the press,” recalls Kim, who roomed with Edwards while the two were undergraduates at Princeton. (Edwards graduated from the New Jersey Ivy in 2004, with a degree in political economics.) “It was the sense that life goes on...It had just been so ingrained in Cate.”

Edwards later traveled to North Carolina to be with her mother. She recalls that, despite the recent turn of events, her mother was incredibly energetic and positive about all the tasks ahead of her.

“My mother wore me out,” Edwards says, chuckling. “The woman is non-stop, has so much energy, and she would never even know she was sick.”

“I mean nobody hopes for it,” she adds. “But we do what we can.”

ON THE TRAIL

While tackling her first year courses at HLS, Edwards continues to campaign for her father. The feat of juggling campaigning with academic duties and family commitments is not “as hard as you would think it is,” Edwards says.

In 2004, Edwards spent much of her father’s campaign working with college-age voters. She says she was pleasantly surprised to find that many students were highly engaged in the political process.

“I think one of the problems that young people find with the political process is that they don’t think it’s a dialogue and that they think that their decisions are being made for them,” Edwards says. “But it doesn’t mean that they’re not interested; it doesn’t mean that they don’t care about the things that are going around them.”

This year, she plans to take on a similar role in her father’s campaign.

On April 19, Edwards visited a kick-off event for Harvard Students for Edwards. Standing up on a booth in the middle of Tommy Doyle’s in Harvard Square, she spoke to supporters about efforts to increase awareness of important political issues on campus.

“She’s fun, she’s likable, but very much serious about the campaign,” says Markus R.T. Kolic ’09, the co-chair of the undergraduate branch of Harvard Students for Edwards. “I was impressed, honestly.”

Edwards has also worked at the Council on Foreign Relations for Gene Sperling, who was former president Bill Clinton’s chief economic advisor. Edwards aided Sperling with his work on a women’s education program that aimed to educate girls in developing countries.

And she is involved with Generation Engage, a nonpartisan organization that works to galvanize young constituents at the grassroots level by connecting them with local, state, and national politicians.

URBANISTA

Those who know Edwards personally say that she’s a down-to-earth student who shares much common ground with the youth of her generation.

She’s particularly interested in fashion and culture—interests that encouraged her to co-found the virtual directory Urbanista Online.

After working as an editorial assistant at Vanity Fair magazine, Edwards and a co-worker, Jessica Flint, started the blog last June as a source for budget-savvy New York shoppers, offering advice on everything from finding the perfect nail salon to the best shoe cobbler in Manhattan.

The women solicited friends and colleagues for recommendations of places to shop in New York.

“A hip gal is totally going to trust her besties’ advice over Google,” the site explains.

Edwards says the site is “meant to give young women who might perhaps otherwise be lost in New York a guide to life there.”

And the pressures of Harvard Law School and a national political campaign have not fazed the quirky urbanista in Edwards.

“We make fun of her for all sorts of things,” Kim, her roommate, says. “She sings [the theme song from] ‘Green Acres’ and performs it.” she laughs. “She makes up songs all the time.”