(GREENSBORO, N.C.) -- When Elizabeth Edwards first learned of a National Enquirer expose revealing her husband's affair, her reaction was "volcanic" and she fretted that John Edwards' infidelities would "humiliate" her and end his campaign, a campaign pollster testified Monday.
Veteran Democratic pollster Harrison Hickman testified on the first day of Edwards' defense and described a candidate who feared his wife's temper, particularly over his affair with his mistress Rielle Hunter.
"I don't mean to say this in a disparaging way. It was volcanic....She could get upset about things, but she was really upset about this," Hickman told the court.
Edwards' lawyers claim the former senator used money received from wealthy donors to hide his affair from his wife, not to circumvent federal campaign finance laws.
"She kept saying I don't want to be humiliated. I don't want my kids to have to deal with this," Hickman remembered Elizabeth Edwards saying.
Hickman, who advised Edwards that his 2008 presidential hopes were doomed, said Edwards "did everything he could to placate Mrs. Edwards....He acquiesced to Elizabeth Edwards making decisions....She took the lead and he deferred to her."
Mrs. Edwards did not want her husband to drop out of the race for the presidency, Hickman testified, even when she got a diagnosis that her breast cancer had returned and it was terminal.
"She said she didn't want to sit home and die. She wanted her life to have a purpose....She wanted to keep it going and get him elected president," Hickman told the jury.
Elizabeth Edwards died in December 2010. She slowly learned about her husband's affair with Hunter in 2007 and became increasingly upset about each new revelation, witnesses said, once becoming so distraught she tore her blouse off on an airport tarmac and collapsed on the ground.
Edwards is charged with six counts of campaign finance violations, allegedly using nearly $1 million in donations to protect his bid for the 2008 presidential nomination and later his hopes to be named vice president or attorney general. If convicted, Edwards could be sentenced to 30 years in prison.
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