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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In very tangible ways, people have less money than they used to. They have less to spend and debt to pay off. And there are long-term economic effects to all of this. In towns like Eagle, without good-paying construction jobs as an economic driver, what will move the US economy? It won't be manufacturing, which once made up more than 28 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and now represents 13 percent.Skip to next paragraph
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The real growth area in the economy is not technology or alternative energy; it is services. The service sector makes up about three-quarters of the US GDP today – it was less than 50 percent in 1959. And while there are certainly good-paying jobs in many parts of the service economy – wouldn't we all like a Goldman Sachs salary – plenty of low-paying, low-benefit ones exist as well, in areas like retail and food service.
Do most Americans fully grasp these changes? No. At least not everyone does. But people sense something big is happening to the American way of life. Talk to people not just in Eagle but around the country in places as different as Lincoln City, Ore., where tourism rules, and Los Alamos, N.M., where scientists split atoms. The point you will hear over and over is "the world is different now." And that's never meant in a positive way.
Backlash at the ballot box
Is it any wonder then that 2010 is the year of the endangered incumbent? After all, if something is broken, if something has changed, someone must be to blame. Those in power offer a good place to start. And in Eagle the line of culpability for some voters starts far beneath Washington.
Sitting behind his desk in the Eagle County Sheriff's office, Joe Hoy shakes his head. Mr. Hoy is running for a third term as Eagle County's top cop, and for the first time he is facing opposition and he is surprised. The last four years have been quiet. Since the 2003 sexual assault trial of Kobe Bryant, which happened in Hoy's jurisdiction, the county has experienced relative calm.
"They are just frustrated from the federal government on down, and they vent by focusing on local officials," he says. Hoy had a primary opponent that came from his staff, Deputy Charles Wolf, and narrowly held him off by 256 votes. Now he faces another challenger in November, another former deputy, James van Beek.
"I've talked to the voters around town and one of them, I don't want to say names, but someone I know, came up to me and said, 'I think you've done a great job, but I'm voting for Wolf.' I didn't bother responding to that. I mean, what do you say? You can't argue with thinking like that."