The first time I laid eyes on Rielle Hunter, I could tell she was a story. She had frizzy blond hair with DARK roots, wore bright nail polish and moved like someone who knew how to work a room. She was on a cramped commuter flight and she was flirting with a candidate for president of the United States. It was July 7, 2006. I'd been sent to Iowa to write a piece on John Edwards. We were on our way to Des Moines, where I would be the only national reporter following him around the state for two days. From a few rows back, I tried to observe Edwards before the plane took off. Most of the other passengers seemed to have no idea who Edwards was. But this blond woman, putting away her bags, was visibly captivated by him. She tried repeatedly to engage him in conversation, but he seemed uninterested in talking. How the mighty have fallen, I thought. As John Kerry's running mate in 2004, Edwards had his own campaign bubble around him all the time; now he had to deal with strangers who flirt with him on planes. Of course, she wasn't a stranger. Edwards now admits that he had an extramarital affair with her. But at the time I had no reason to suspect there was anything between them.
She showed up at his first event that day in Des Moines with a video camera. She was trying to get as close to the candidate as she could. "Does she work for the campaign?" I asked Edwards's press secretary, Kim Rubey. "Oh, she's working on a documentary project," said Rubey. "We're not sure if it's going to work out." But it was soon clear that she was on Team Edwards. When it came time to drive to the next event, she rode in the car with the candidate. I drove behind in a rental car.
I struck up a conversation with the woman at the next event, as we waited outside. She told me her name and asked me what my astrological sign was, which I thought was a little unusual. I told her. She smiled, and began telling me her life story: how she was working as a documentary-film maker, living with a friend in South Orange, N.J., but how she'd previously had "many lives." She'd worked, she said, as an actress and as a spiritual adviser. She was fiercely devoted to astrology and New Age spirituality. She'd been a New York party girl, she'd been married and divorced, she'd been a seeker and a teacher and was a firm believer in the power of truth.