By Edith Honan
NEW YORK (Reuters) - If Anthony Weiner remains a contender in the New York City mayor's race after admitting a second time he sent lewd pictures to women he met online, he will have his wife, Huma Abedin, to thank, political watchers said on Wednesday.
Weiner, who resigned from Congress in disgrace two years ago and is now attempting a political comeback, acknowledged on Tuesday that he continued having sexually charged chats for more than a year after his tearful resignation.
Abedin, 36, a longtime aide to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, broke from the usual playbook of supporting wives when Weiner resigned in 2011 and was conspicuously absent from her husband's side.
But the couple stayed together and Abedin has played a critical role in rehabilitating Weiner's image by sacrificing her well-guarded privacy to publicly support him.
On Tuesday, after a website published a new series of online chats and pictures in which Weiner reportedly used the pseudonym "Carlos Danger," Abedin smiled as she told voters the scandal was behind them and this was a personal matter.
"Anthony's made some horrible mistakes, both before he resigned from Congress and after, but I do truly believe that that is between us and our marriage," Abedin said, allowing she was "a little nervous" about her first press conference. "I love him, I have forgiven in him, I believe in him."
Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, gave Abedin high marks for her appearance on Tuesday.
"I think she did exactly what she needed to do," Miringoff said. "Without her, he was walking to a trapdoor and his candidacy was over. She provides credibility for the changes that he says he's gone through. If you don't believe him, maybe you'll believe her."
'I BELIEVE IN WHAT HE WANTS TO DO'
Others questioned her decision.
The New York Post ran a photograph of Abedin, her head bowed, on its cover, saying Weiner had sent her to "new depths of humiliation." In its editorial calling on Weiner to step out of the race, the New York Times wrote that it was difficult "not to feel for Ms. Abedin."
In an essay to be published next month in Harper's Bazaar magazine, Abedin writes of her long-held reluctance to call attention to herself and why she believes she is doing the right thing in standing by Weiner.
"Quite simply, I love my husband, I love my city, and I believe in what he wants to do for the people of New York," she wrote, according to an excerpt posted on the magazine's website.
Born to an Indian father and a Pakistani mother, Abedin began working at the Clinton White House as a intern in 1996. A decade later, she was featured in a photo spread in Vogue magazine under the headline, "Hillary's Secret Weapon." The weaponry appeared to be her fierce but appealing protectiveness toward the candidate coupled with a distinctive fashion sense.
Often described as Hillary's second daughter, the two remain close.
When she joined Clinton on the presidential campaign trail, the New York Times wrote that Abedin, a practicing Muslim, enjoyed "semi-legendary status for maintaining an improbable level of chic on the campaign trail with a wardrobe of Yves Saint Laurent, Prada and Marc Jacobs."
The image of the hurt but resolute spouse has a secure place in the history of American political sex scandal, at least since Hillary Clinton famously stood by Bill Clinton, then a presidential candidate, in 1992 to defend him against allegations of infidelity.
More than a decade later, when U.S. Senator David Vitter of Louisiana admitted he had paid for prostitutes but said he would stay in office, his wife, Wendy, stood at his side.
And in 2008, when Eliot Spitzer resigned as New York governor after admitting he paid prostitutes for sex, the image of Silda Spitzer standing at his side became the inspiration for the hit TV show "The Good Wife."
On the streets of New York, voters said they were as conflicted in their view of Abedin's role in Weiner's comeback as they were by Weiner's candidacy.
Not Carla Mannino, a Manhattan psychotherapist. "Leave him," she said, echoing several New Yorkers questioned by Reuters. "If I was his wife, I would walk out that door."
(Editing by Dina Kyriakidou and Prudence Crowther)