For a town that could become famous as the birthplace of a president, there sure isn't much talk of politics here these days.
SENECA — Three months before the South Carolina presidential primaries, there are about as many campaign signs in this little town of 8,000 as there are traffic jams. But while the rest of the state is focused on the Hillary Clinton/Barack Obama popularity contests, most folks here still have a lot of hope for their native son, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.
"I like him, not because he's from here, but I like what he says," says Jack Dickard.
Dickard considers the race over lunch at The Time Drive-In, a landmark diner that sits a few miles from the little pink house where Edwards' parents lived when he was born in 1953.
The son of a mill worker and shop owner, Edwards went to school here in this town tucked behind Clemson University until he was about 11, when his family moved to North Carolina. Some of his relatives still live here, and there are a number of people who still remember him.
"I went to the same schoolhouse with him," recalls Danny Price, a man who lives in the old mill village, just a stone's throw from Edwards' first home. "He's our favorite."
Even if folks don't remember Edwards from his childhood, they certainly have seen him around enough lately. He's back in town every few months on his second quest for the White House and draws a big crowd — 300 or so people — when he shows up at Jimmy's Restaurant. But for the most part, it seems, things are too quiet for the hometown boy.
"There was excitement four years ago, but now — nothing," says Tommy Zangas, owner of The Time Drive-In.
Zangas says there just isn't a lot of talk about the race right now among his customers. Most people give little consideration to the primaries coming in January. Even though Dickard says he likes Edwards, he's not ready to rule out other options.
"In about another month, I'll be ready to make up my mind," Dickard says.
From the bars and restaurants of Ram Cat Alley to the old mill village, folks here buck the conservative stereotype of the Upstate. While many express admiration for Sen. Lindsey Graham, another Seneca resident, a good number of say they really like Edwards. Even Linda Thomas, who owns the little pink house and whose husband's truck carries the bumper sticker "My President is Charlton Heston," admits to taking a shine to Edwards.
"He's humble, there's nothing high-falutin' about him," Thomas says. "He's come in my house to get ready for his TV appearances here. He's a fine fellow, but he's for gun control. But I'll vote for him before I will Hillary."
Joe Werner, executive director of the state Democratic Party, said Edwards' core economic themes of pulling people out of poverty resonates in South Carolina. He says the difference between now and 2003 and 2004 might be visibility.
"I really believe Sen. Edwards is putting a lot of eggs in the Iowa basket," Werner says. "I don't think he's writing off South Carolina, but I think four years ago he had a stronger presence here."
Edwards supporters say he has made more appearances in the state than any other Democratic candidate but isn't getting the media attention of Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Clinton and Obama are running first and second in most polls, with Edwards in third. Edwards says he's not really worried because it's too early for people to really be engaged.
"In 2003, I think I was doing less well at this point than I am now," Edwards said Friday. "It's early, and I'm still very confident. I grew up in a mill village and understand the issues of people here. So many jobs have been lost, there's a need for universal health care. Those are core issues that affect everybody's lives. I'm getting a great response from people."
Edwards traveled the Piedmont on Friday, visiting Cheraw, Lancaster and Rock Hill in an area of the state that has seen mills closing just as they have in Seneca. It might be next year before it's clear whether Edwards has won those voters over, but in his old hometown, it's pretty clear that his message has gotten through.
"He stands a good chance around here," says Johnette Fulbright, another Seneca resident. "The majority of people here are going to vote for him."