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People like Maureen O'Hare, whom I found shopping for shoes in the Sedalia Wal-Mart with her daughter Ashley Smith and bright-eyed 2-year-old grandson Traven. Sedalia is an old railroad town of about 20,000 people a population essentially unchanged in the past 90 years. George W. Bush won two-thirds of the vote in Sedalia and surrounding Pettis County in 2004, and one of those votes belonged to O'Hare. But after years of voting for Republicans, she told me, she feels compelled to change horses. Of Obama, she said simply, "I think he would do better in a crisis." Her daughter nodded in agreement as Traven watched impatiently from a shopping cart.
Plenty of people along Route 50 and I‑70 in the heart of the heartland will vote for McCain like Don Wren, who owns an ice cream shop in Troy and supports the Republican ticket for religious reasons. But the gop nominee is up against a tough reality out here when it comes to holding the swing voters who elected Bush. McCain is offering a promise of reform to a group of voters who have little faith left in the promises of politicians. "They're all going to tell you what they want you to hear," O'Hare said. And back on the driveway, Tammy Pyle's husband Larry echoed the sentiment. "It's all special interests now," he said. Larry and Tammy were the two Republicans in the group, but even they weren't buying the McCain message. "Whoever gets in, it's not going to change," Tammy said. "So for me, the most important issue is taxes. I just don't want to pay more taxes."
Obama's promises are not necessarily more credible to these skeptical voters, but he has the advantage of being undeniably new. He is toting a lot of unusual baggage, but for many voters, that is outweighed by the fact that he isn't more of the same. Only 9% of Americans feel the country is on the right track, according to the latest Gallup poll the lowest number in the poll's history. "I just don't want another four years of Bush, and here's McCain voting with him 90% of the time," said Ben Humphreys as he stood with his neighbors on that driveway in Troy. His wife Dawn said, "Obama seems to care more about people like me. He's more for the people."
Across the Wide Missouri
Two recent time polls a national survey and a sample of battleground states, including Missouri support the notion that a sour and deteriorating economy is helping Obama close the deal with white America. The Wall Street crisis has driven Bush's approval ratings to new depths, and McCain, at the helm of Bush's gop, is struggling to escape the undertow. Nearly two-thirds of the 1,098 people sampled in the national poll said they personally are going backward economically. Among these anxious voters, Obama had opened a huge lead some 25 percentage points over McCain. Obama appears to be succeeding in his effort to get past traditional racial politics. A majority of all voters agreed with the notion that Obama "isn't white or black; he's a little of both." Obama receives a favorable rating from more than 2 out of 3 economically stressed voters, far ahead of the ratings for McCain or his running mate, Sarah Palin, whose appeal outside the Republican base has been evaporating. The net result is that Obama has overtaken McCain among that volatile and often decisive demographic group: white women. And he has narrowed McCain's lead among white men.
Both campaigns have evoked the ghost of Harry S. Truman, a salt-of-the-earth fellow whose honesty and common sense allowed him to govern in Washington without being corrupted. So I began my trip near the leafy street corner in Independence, Mo., where Truman had his home. I strolled the downtown sidewalks along which the former President took his morning constitutional after he returned home from building the postwar world. In a shop near the courthouse, I asked the woman behind the counter what she was thinking about the election. She replied that she was a lifelong Republican and a big fan of Palin. "I find Sarah refreshing," she said. "More of a doer than a talker, down-to-earth, with family problems like the rest of us. You know, to a certain extent, we're all swimming upstream in life."
Another store clerk joined us. She offered her impression that Palin "was like a snake for some reason," but her co-worker admonished her to stop paying attention to "gossip. You can hear gossip about anyone." The younger clerk sort of shrugged and said she might not vote at all. "I think they need to face more up to the economy," she explained.