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2012 presidential race: Voters seek that promised change
Many are pessimistic about U.S. direction, slate of candidates
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Georgia Newspaper Partnership

The Times has joined with 13 other daily newspapers to provide comprehensive coverage of politics and government.
This article was compiled with reports from reporters Patrick Stoker, Jeff Gill and Dallas Duncan of The Times, as well as from staff writers Mark Davis of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution; Blake Aued and Erin France of the Athens Banner-Herald; Meg Mirshak, The Augusta Chronicle; Melody Dareing and Lowell Vickers, The Cedartown Standard and The Rockmart Journal; Michael Owen, Ledger-Enquirer in Columbus; Andy Johns and Mariann Martin, Chattanooga Times Free Press; ; Terry Dickson of the Georgia Times-Union; Phillip Ramati, The Telegraph in Macon; and The Calhoun Times and the Rome News-Tribune.

Things have been better, no doubt about that.

We're still at war. The economy sputters like a poorly tuned engine. National unemployment hovers around 9 percent - over 10 percent in Georgia.

With the election of a new president one year away from today, Georgians are aware of the gloomy numbers. Many are asking who can make it better; which candidate can turn this economy around and put people to work again?

The Times and other Georgia Newspaper Partnership members recently conducted dozens of interviews with ordinary Georgians from the mountains to the shore. Reporters talked with the old, the young, the retired and the recently hired asking: What are the key issues facing the nation? How has President Barack Obama done? What should the Republican candidates be talking about?

Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich, GOP presidential contenders with strong Georgia roots, have supporters across the state. Many respondents said they still support Obama, though perhaps not as enthusiastically as they did in 2008.

And everywhere - at a coffee shop in Flowery Branch, a hardware store in Atlanta, at a bike store in Brunswick - people said they worry about the loss of jobs, about the flat economy. Some wondered if Americans' renowned optimism has finally run dry.

Jay Exley paused as he drank coffee at Common Grounds Coffee Shoppe & Deli in Flowery Branch.

"I think (the country is) going in the wrong direction," said Exley, 42, a field service engineer. "I think we need to get our budgets under control. Even if we have to raise taxes, we have to do something to get things better, so we actually can have more jobs."

He describes himself as conservative and "looking more" toward Republican candidates, even as - he said with a chuckle - his wife, Aprill, aligns herself with Democrats.

Exley is keeping an eye on the presidential race, but believes party affiliation isn't the most important thing.

The next president, whomever that is, and Congress "need to work together," Exley said. "We haven't gotten anything done these last two years."

Hope. It became a mantra for Obama in his 2008 bid for the White House. Now, it's a word some people utter with sarcasm.

The nation doesn't appear much better off than it was when Obama was elected, said Mike Carroll of Gainesville. Obama's had all the chances he needs to set things right, Carroll said. Politically, said Carroll, 58, "I'm in the middle right now."

A former Democrat, he is looking at the field of GOP contenders, hoping someone will inspire his confidence. "I'm waiting to see what everybody's going to do," he said.

"It's just a lot of things (Obama) promised in his presidential race in the last election he just hasn't done," Carroll said.

Fred Griffin doesn't see that change, either. The owner of a bicycle and lawn mower shop in Brunswick, Griffin said the "hope and change" Obama promised hasn't materialized.

"I just want the economy to turn around,'' said Griffin, 49, a Republican. "It's time for somebody to get into office who knows what the struggle is all about, someone who has experienced it themselves.''

Brannon Sean Harris, who will vote for the first time next year, was succinct.

"The country is going straight to hell," said Harris, 19, a management trainee from Columbus. "It's bad."

How bad? Ringgold business owner Paul Lee, 44, described it in a way any motorist can understand.

"It's like we are going down a one-way street when we need to be making a U-turn," he said.

Bad direction'

Doris Holtzclaw of Gainesville said the U.S. needs to keep its jobs at home.

"All the manufacturing jobs are leaving and going somewhere else," said Holtzclaw, 63, who said she's neither Republican nor Democrat. "And the economy is not picking up."

Douglas Burge, 40, agrees. Burge, a landscaper from Rockmart, has strong feelings about the country's current status.

"It's going in a bad direction right now," said Burge, "I think it's too much war - too much money spent on different wars."

The nation is not spending enough money within its own borders, he said.

"We need to stop buying so many imports and start sending out as many exports as we import," he said. "We need to stop sending jobs overseas."

The nation may need new leaders to get back on track, suggested Cedartown resident Jill Swanson.

"It seems like a lot of money is being wasted," said Swanson, 34 and a student. "Our country's officials have become very selfish and self-concerned. I don't think they care very much about the common citizens."

For Jonathan Lipscomb of Pendergrass, the issue is that government has gotten too big and intrudes on areas of our life it doesn't belong in.

"I think that government has gotten too big. I think their hands are in things that government should not be in," said Lipscomb, 33, owner of Foxhold Guns and Archery in Gainesville. "I think that every time the government thinks they can fix a problem they make more problems."

He's pessimistic that solutions are at hand.

"I don't know if one person knows how to fix it. ... I think (fixing the economy) has something to do with taxes and cutting government," he said.

A lot of lawmakers have forgotten what it feels like to live from one paycheck or the next, said Ed York, 39, who owns a barbershop in the student center at Morehouse College in Atlanta.

"They don't know what it's like to look in their checking account and see a $1 balance," said York, who considers himself a conservative.

He likened government to a broken computer.

"What do you do when your computer doesn't work?" he asked. "You open it up and replace all the parts. That's what we need to do."

For Virginie Partee, 38, it's a challenge to stay positive amidst all the negative news.

Partee is originally from France and just became a U.S. citizen. She moved to the Gainesville area during the 1996 Olympics when "everything was great here. You could get a job."

Now she's hoping the economic ups and downs are just a cycle that will eventually swing up again.

Partee said she definitely plans on exercising her new right to vote but hasn't yet followed the race closely. But she's looking for someone with an eye on lowering taxes and regulating immigration.

"I went through a lot to be a legal citizen, and I think everybody should do the same," she said. "I think it's wonderful people can come from another country because life is so much easier and better here so I totally understand that."

Hope springs eternal

Politicians need to collaborate more, agreed Chavis Jones, 20, a junior at Morehouse College in Atlanta. Jones said he's "socially conservative, politically liberal."

He "leans toward" the Democratic Party, but is realistic: "I have to prepare myself for the possibility that a Republican will be president," he said.

Jones who wasn't old enough to vote in 2008, said Obama has not delivered the change he promised. But the president, he added, has been busy with a tanking economy and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"It's like when Abraham Lincoln was elected to office," said Jones. "He had the Civil War."

Skip Martin of Flowery Branch tends to vote Republican. But the 62-year-old courier for the Hall County Library System says the person elected president needs to be focused on fixing the problems of the country.

"Whomever wins the presidency next year needs to work with Congress on finding ways to stimulate the economy, whether it be with tax cuts (or) tax breaks for businesses that hire," Martin said.

What he doesn't want to see is election posturing right after races are decided.

"Soon as the election was over last time, it's here we go worrying about four years from now," Martin said.

Despite all the problems, things may be getting better for Obama, said 51-year-old Atlanta resident Cliff Harris.

Harris works at a hardware store, and said people lately have been buying more paint and items to spruce up their homes. To him, that means people are gaining confidence in the country - their president, too.

"These are important indicators," said Harris, an Obama supporter. "People are spending money again."

Obama needs four more years, said Shirley Jones of Macon. She's 56, a retired medical worker and believes the nation's "messed-up economy" took root when Bill Clinton was in office and grew during George W. Bush's tenure.

"It's going to take time to figure it out," she said. "If we can get him back into office, he'll do his job."

But Mark and Tressie Fletcher said they're leaning toward a familiar name in Georgia politics.

"Newt Gingrich is looking pretty good to me," said Fletcher, 83, as he and his wife walked a trail at Fort Oglethorpe. The Fletchers said they once were Democrats, but no longer.

America does face challenges as its citizens prepare for another election, said Tabitha Gallman, a web designer who works from her home in Gordon County, between Atlanta and Chattanooga. Unemployment, the economy are reasons to worry, she said.

But Gallman sounded an optimistic note, perhaps unconsciously echoing candidate Obama:

"There is always hope."

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