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He left Robbins for college and law school and never looked back.

The Robbins of today bears pale resemblance to the town of Edwards' youth, but his up-from-Robbins stump speech evokes the memory of the boy with silver-capped front teeth who moved to town from Georgia, settling into a modest gray ranch house on North Frye Street with his parents and younger brother and sister in 1966. Bragg, Robbins wasn't in any hurry to question the war in Vietnam.

And, above all, he emphasizes civility, saying that voters are tired of partisan carping and yearn for a positive vision.

These views put him decidedly in the middle of the Democratic spectrum, and his challenge is whether they also are in sync with a more left-leaning primary voter.

"My memories of growing up here are positive." Yet the residue of segregation was not hard to spot. But stubbornness and self-assuredness, two defining features of the adult Edwards' personality, had already started to emerge.

The announcement of Edwards' high school class graduation in June 1971 came under a headline reading, "Negro is Commencement Speaker at North Moore Graduation Monday." Bright, clean-cut kid Amid students at North Moore with star quality such as Brady and Cameron, Edwards was just another bright, clean-cut kid. Not one that would stand out in a crowd, at least not in high school," said W. A former football coach, Paul Mc Lendon, remembers a tough streak that allowed the 150-pound Edwards -- a four-sport athlete -- to hold his own against bigger players. "But he was a very tenacious young man." After high school, Edwards walked on with the freshman football squad at Clemson University in Clemson, S. -- his father's favorite school -- in a long-shot bid to win an athletic scholarship.

Unexpectedly Tuesday, Gore endorsed primary front-runner Howard Dean.

Edwards is running as a pleasant populist, a man with matinee looks, Southern graciousness and seemingly boundless good cheer.

The younger Edwards watched his father look for any little edge to add to his education, even trying to study via public television. "They wouldn't give me an opportunity to advance for a long time," the 71-year-old says of his one-time Milliken bosses.

"He told me it made his heart break seeing his dad working on math problems with a high school teacher on PBS," said federal bankruptcy Judge J. "I worked for people I had to train." No such fate awaited Johnny Edwards.

So tame was the town of 1,000 that after two robberies were reported in the entire county between Christmas and New Year's Day 1970, the local paper fretted that "the increase in lawlessness in the big cities . One of those young people would become an astronaut who flew on the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1996. Robbins serves as the allegory for his campaign, the kind of small-town-values place that built America's middle class, respected traditions and found honor in humility and civility. Brady, the shuttle astronaut who starred as a wingback at North Moore High in that era.

Another is director of music theater and television at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington. "I felt like I had a bunch of parents." Kay Cameron, another classmate, felt the same way.

Edwards' father was a supervisor in the Milliken & Co. His mother, Bobbie, raised three children -- Johnny, the oldest, his sister, Katherine, and brother, Wesley Blake -- but at various times she also folded sheets in a textile plant, sewed bathing suits, ran an antiques store in Robbins and worked as a rural letter carrier. "We lived a really, really sheltered existence," said Amie Ryan, a North Moore classmate.

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