For nearly a decade, Andrew Young was John Edwards' loyal foot soldier as Edwards rocketed from millionaire trial lawyer to U.S. senator to two-time White House hopeful.
When Edwards needed someone to scout locations for a Senate campaign office, he sent Young. When TV trucks converged on Edwards' house in 2003 and damaged the neighbors' lawns, Young was told to take care of it. When it came time to raise money for Edwards' second run at the White House, Young was there to work the phones.
And when Edwards was confronted with the biggest crisis of his political career, Young was there again: After the National Enquirer reported that Edwards had an affair with a video producer, Young issued a statement in December saying that he - and not the candidate - was the father of the woman's baby.
But given Young's unswerving devotion to Edwards - and given Edwards' lies in initially denying he cheated on his wife - some campaign watchers wonder whether Young, a 42-year-old married man, is taking the fall for his boss.
"Given the pattern of the thing, it's not unreasonable for people to ask" whether the child belongs to Edwards, said Gary Pearce, a longtime Democratic operative in North Carolina and a consultant to Edwards' 1998 Senate bid. "The media and a large chunk of the public, including some of John's supporters, still question whether he's told the whole truth."
Around the same time that Young put out a terse statement through his lawyer in which he claimed to be the baby's father, Edwards' former mistress, Rielle Hunter, issued her own statement saying the same thing.
Then, only weeks before the first vote of the 2008 presidential election season took place in Iowa, Young abruptly left the Edwards campaign and his $90,000-a-year job as a fundraiser, and dropped out of sight. He packed up and left North Carolina for California in a move bankrolled by Edwards' national fundraiser.
In his confessional interview Aug. 8 with ABC, Edwards insisted he could not have fathered Hunter's daughter, born at the end of February, because the affair ended in 2006, though he added he would be "happy to take a paternity test and would love to see it happen." But Hunter ruled out such a test the next day.
Young, like Hunter, has gone into seclusion, and he has not returned messages in months. Calls this week to attorneys who represented him in the past were not returned.
In the meantime, editorial writers and others have raised the possibility that Young is covering for his boss and that Edwards has not come clean.
On a radio talk show on Wednesday, Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said of Edwards: "I feel sorry for his family, because how horrible. But also, don't you think he is the father of the child?"
Young has had brushes with the law that most recently included a driving-while-impaired arrest in 2006. But Democrats in Raleigh remember him as a loyal and resolute member of the Edwards team as early as Edwards' upset victory for the Senate in 1998.
They described Young as a personal assistant who was involved in close family details, such as ensuring that Edwards' parents' hotel arrangements were taken care of at the 2004 Democratic convention.
"Anybody who's been around campaigns knows that folks come and go," said Joyce Fitzpatrick, a public relations executive who worked with Young to hold a pair of Edwards fundraisers. "Andrew was a constant." Fitzpatrick described Young as a "very young, bright guy who seemed very devoted" to both Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth.
When Young was in his 20s, he was charged with passing worthless checks, possession of marijuana, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. Charges of burglary and criminal mischief were thrown out in a Florida court in 1987.
Back in his native North Carolina a decade later, Young worked for the North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers, where he was registered to work as a lobbyist at the Legislature in 1999.
"I would only have positive things to say about him as being a helpful, friendly and pleasant co-worker to a new employee," former fellow lobbyist Stella Boswell wrote in an e-mail.
In 1999, Young married Cheri Lynn Pfister, a 25-year-old nurse at the time.
"They appeared to be a nice happy couple," said Carolyn Grissom, who purchased their home in Raleigh in early 2007. "They seemed to be crazy about each other. They certainly are crazy about their kids and dog."
Cheri Young had a short moment in the spotlight in 2006, when she and her sister were in the audience during a taping of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and the star gave them $1,000 and instructions to make someone's life better. Young used to money to seek donations from others, eventually raising more than $35,000 for needy families in North Carolina.
"We all have our ups and we all have our downs, and when you're up, you reach out, and when you're down, you allow others to help," she said on Winfrey's Web site.
That same year, Young was back in trouble with the law. He was cited in August 2006 for having open beer containers at a park near his home and, the next month, charged with driving while impaired. A substance abuse counselor later wrote that he had "found some evidence of alcohol abuse," according to court records. Young was supposed to begin group counseling three days later. It was not clear from the records whether he completed the counseling.
Earlier this year, he was sentenced to a year of unsupervised probation and 24 hours of community service for the DWI. Court papers said he was living in California for work-related purposes. His attorney in that case did not return several calls.
Fred Baron, Edwards' national finance chairman and a wealthy Dallas-based trial attorney, has acknowledged he quietly sent money to Hunter and to Young's family to resettle in California.
Baron said he did so on his own, to "help two friends and former colleagues rebuild their lives when harassment by supermarket tabloids made it impossible for them to move forward on their own."