Verna Hancock and other longtime residents of this small Moore County town served as a willing backdrop for John Edwards' “son-of-a-millworker, rags-to-riches” campaign narrative.
Many of those same hometown supporters already had gone to bed Friday night before ABC aired an interview on “Nightline” in which Edwards admitted to an affair two years ago with campaign videographer Rielle Hunter.
They missed the former U.S. senator confessing that he had strayed from the values he learned growing up in Robbins. Edwards told ABC he had become “something different than that young boy who grew up in a small town in North Carolina.”
“Because that young boy would never have done this, never thought about doing it,” Edwards said, “to his family or to his wife.”
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But as members of the national media took whacks at Edwards, Hancock and others in Robbins muffled their dismay with Sunday vows not to condemn him.
“My first reaction was, ‘Of all the people, not John Edwards. I still am in amazement,'” said Hancock, 69.
Hancock recalled joining the crowd of supporters in front of the mill where Edwards' father worked on the day Edwards declared his first presidential run before the 2004 election.
Hancock said Edwards would be forgiven. She said there were few people in town who did not know Edwards or his parents, who still live in town.
Hancock's connection dates to when Edwards successfully represented her daughter in a suit arising from a wreck that killed her husband.
“(Edwards) just fell into a trap that we can all fall into,” she said. “I would treat him no differently, but he would be snubbed by some people. … At church this morning, our Sunday school teacher said, ‘a lot of people didn't back him anyway.'”
In a county where registered Democrats last outnumbered Republicans in 1988, Edwards' hometown advantage did not prevent the GOP ticket of Bush/Cheney from almost doubling the number of votes cast for John Kerry and Edwards, his vice-presidential running mate, in 2004.
Since then, the number of registered Republicans in Moore County has grown to 25,303 as of this month, while there are 18,139 registered Democrats.
On Sunday, however, even those with partisan differences shied away from smug celebrations or condemnations.
Robbins resident Gail Prevatte, a member of the county Republican Party's executive committee, said Edwards' confession brought no extra satisfaction.
John Owen, chairman of the county Republican Party, said he felt bad for Elizabeth Edwards.
“To be involved in something like this – my heart goes out to his wife,” Owen said. “She doesn't need that.”
Owen, 76, said he does not know Edwards, but has met his parents.
“I know they must be embarrassed to death,” he said.