Voters apprehensive about next year's presidential election

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, 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 Atlanta Journal-Constitution, along with the Augusta Chronicle and the Georgia Newspaper Partnership 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 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 hardware store in Atlanta, at a bike store in Brunswick, on the sidewalks of Augusta – people said they worry about the loss of jobs, about the flat economy. Some wondered if Americans’ renowned optimism has finally run dry.

Having moderate political views, Will Melton, a medical student orginally from Columbus but now living in Augusta, said discussions concerning education, health care, student loans and the nation’s debt crisis will help him decide whether to vote Republican or Democrat. Melton, 24, favors Obama over the Republican candidates but that could change depending on what he hears from candidates during the election year. And he’s fed up with both political parties pandering to their extreme fringes.

“There’s no middle ground,” he said. “We need more gray.”

Many believe the country is heading in the wrong direction and much of the enthusiasm that followed Obama into office has waned.

Patent attorney Duane Minley paused as he ate lunch outside a Midtown Atlanta office building.

“The big problem?” he said. “It’s a loss of hope.”

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 Atlanta resident Grace Kugler, a 24-year-old bartender who considers herself a liberal.

“I don’t see that much change,” she said.

Alison Tammany, 23, an Augusta medical student orginially from California, voted for Obama last election but will not do so in 2012. Her political views waver, but she currently falls in the middle of the spectrum. She’s waiting for a candidate to talk about environmental issues and corporate greed.

“There should be more regulation of the big companies,” Tammany said.

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.”

Obama’s had all the chances he needs to set things right, said Mike Carroll of Gainesville. 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.

Cain may be the best candidate, said Columbus resident Kathleen Bovaird, 55. A lifelong Democrat, Bovaird said she might be willing to switch allegiances to vote for Cain, a nationally syndicated radio host and former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza.

“I don’t think it’s a bad idea for a businessman to run the country,” she said.

Bertron Beard, 64, of Evans, agrees Cain offers a positive approach for the nation’s economic woes and path towards socialism. Beard, a retired information technology system analyst, supports tax reform, especially the fair tax proposal to eliminate personal and corporate income tax.

“He’s not a politician,” Beard said. “Politicians have thoroughly screwed up this country."

What they think

-- Kevin Hickey, 30, of Augusta, said the nation’s unemployment problem will matter to most voters but he thinks many people exaggerate the issue. Candidates aren’t offering a concrete economic recovery plan that constituents are asking for.

“We’re not in as bad a spot as one would think. We’ve hit rock bottom and we’re slowly going to climb out of this,” Hickey, a marketing executive, said.

-- Ophelia Anu, a self-described political activist that aligns with Democratic values, knows she will vote for Obama.

“He’s level headed. He’s persistent,” said Anu, who’s currently unemployed. “He will get done what needs to be done,” Anu said.

-- Alan Andrews, 65, of North Augusta, S.C., said the nation’s moving towards a socialist government under current leadership. Republican candidate Herman Cain has Andrews’ support now, but the retired administrator from USC Aiken will continue to pay attention to election debates.

“I like his simple approach. He has good solutions to our problems and I agree with his direction for the country,” Andrews said.

-- Jeff Ahlstedt, 22, an Augusta medical student originally from Lawrenceville, couldn’t decide on a candidate last presidential election so he didn’t cast a ballot. As a libertarian, he would vote for Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul if he were to secure the GOP nomination.

“He stands by his convictions,” Ahlstedt said. “I don’t like the hypocrisy, saying one thing then another, of a lot of the candidates.”

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