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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.

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"I want to talk to you right now about a fundamental threat to American democracy," Mr. Carter said, adding: "It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation."

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Critics panned the speech for being pessimistic, even defeatist. But talking to people in Eagle and other Patchwork Nation communities today, you hear a lot of the same doubt.

In the brilliant midday sunlight, Kurt Harvey is sitting in the cab of a mobile crane, slowly moving a basket full of painters suspended some 50 feet off the ground. Mr. Harvey has the look of a powerfully built construction worker, but he is the owner of HI Cranes. He has been in the business for 14 years and now finds himself back where he started – wondering about the future of his once-thriving company.

The last few years in Eagle have not been easy. The housing boom that fueled much of the nation's growth in the early 2000s was turbocharged here – the town's population doubled to 6,000. The housing bust that followed has taken a huge toll psychologically, and financially, on people like Harvey.

At the height of the building craze, Harvey owned five cranes and employed 10 people. Now he has one worker. The other guys have left the construction business altogether. One is delivering pizzas; another has moved to Denver to work in the train yards. HI Cranes doesn't offer benefits anymore, which means Harvey and his co-worker have no health insurance, even though construction can be dangerous work. Harvey is also down to only two cranes.

"The bank repossessed one of them. The other two I had to sell just to pay them off," he says as he eases the bucket of men closer to the building. "I used to rush from job to job, working seven days a week. Sometimes 100 hours in one week. Now there are weeks when we have only 20 hours of work."

"A lot of people are scared," he adds. "We just don't know if there are enough jobs here to keep people working without construction."

That's a real concern in Eagle, where much of the economy the past 10 years has been built around people who wear hard hats. In 2006, local authorities issued building permits for 619 units in Eagle County. In 2009 it fell to 78 units. The drop has hit people like a ton of patio bricks.

Chris Spiegel, who owns a construction company in nearby Gypsum, once had about 20 men on his payroll. Now he employs six – all of whom have had to take 20 percent pay cuts.

"For the first time in 10 years, I laid off my crew for the winter last year," Mr. Spiegel says. "There are lots of jobs to bid on, but you make a decent bid, and they come back and tell you to take 20 percent off the price."

Ms. Whicker, the mom who was watching her son on the bike course, has witnessed it all. She worked for a title company in Eagle during the boom and watched across the table at closings as friends and neighbors bought bigger houses with less money down, certain they would make a tidy profit when they sold.

"The same people came back through my closing office on short sales a year or two later," she says. "They were upside down in their homes and walking away with nothing. It was hard to sit there. I quit my job because of it."

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