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The mood on Main St. as midterm elections loom

Eagle, Colorado, a town struggling to surmount recession, offers a window into why America seems so sullen heading into what could be a hinge moment in politics.

By Dante ChinniCorrespondent / September 12, 2010

Kurt Harvey, who owns a crane business, used to rush from job to job, sometimes working 100 hours a week. Now, with the lack of new of construction, he's down to one employee and often works only 20 hours a week. 'We just don’t know if there are enough jobs here to keep people working without construction,’ he says.

Tony Avelar/The Christian Science Monitor

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Eagle, Colorado

A lot of adjectives come to mind to describe this small town, set in the Rockies just west of Vail, Colo. Drive through its inviting streets and you'll find neat rows of houses and open park spaces, children riding by cheerfully on bikes without parental supervision, and small local shops where the cashier knows customers by name. It all speaks of a certain image of America – quaint, idyllic, even Rockwell-esque. And all set against a stunning mountain backdrop.

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That's why the conversations with locals here can seem so jarring. Poke your head in the local drugstore or the corner cafe and the words you'll hear more often are "frustration," "anger," or "uncertainty."

At an outdoor table at the Dusty Boot steakhouse, Susan Balcomb spears what's left of her appetizer as she looks across the street. "We still haven't hit bottom yet here," she says. "There is a lot of frustration. We'll be back, but it won't be like before."

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At the city's BMX bicycle track, Tracy Whicker watches her son roll up and down the dirt hills. "We haven't hit rock bottom yet," she says. "I think we are going to crash and crash hard."

Not only crash, but crash hard. And if you spend a few days walking and talking in Eagle you'll quickly learn those voices are not unusual. Theirs is the prevailing view, even the dominant one. Times are hard. Times have changed. Times will not be the way they were for a long time – if ever.

But what may be most remarkable about these sentiments in the fall of 2010 is how unremarkable they are in the United States.

Choose your poll and you will find the number of Americans who believe the country is "on the wrong track" or "dissatisfied with the way things are going" generally hovers around 60 percent, and it has been in that range for most of this year. The latest Zogby poll put the number at 60 percent, so did Ipsos/Reuters. YouGov/Polimetrix had the number at 56 percent. Rasmussen pegged it at 67 percent.

To probe what's behind the discontent, we came to Eagle, which, in many ways, offers a good window into the American mood. It is a former boom town set in a key swing state. Politics in Colorado runs the gamut from liberal to conservative. It is a green state but also one where people embrace hunting and "using" the land. It mixes the Western traits of can-do capitalism and self-sufficiency with $3 lattes and five-star restaurants. While parts of the state have avoided the depths of the recession, few places have escaped entirely unscathed, economically or psychologically. Who has?

2010 has not been a banner year for the US. The job numbers look gloomy with unemployment hovering around 9.5 percent. Housing prices in many places, including Eagle, are falling. Foreclosures in the last few months are again climbing. For much of this spring and summer, headlines were dominated by the story of a broken oil well that simply could not be capped. The war in Afghanistan grinds on, even if the one in Iraq winds down.

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