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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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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.

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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."

Voters, of course, are expressing their anger beyond the sheriff's office. In the recent Colorado primary for US Senate, Ken Buck, a candidate backed by the "tea party" movement, defeated Jane Norton, a former lieutenant governor supported by the Republican establishment. On the Democratic side, Sen. Michael Bennet held off a spirited challenge from Andrew Romanoff, a former state lawmaker, whose main pitch was that he was an outsider. Even Mr. Bennet, the incumbent, frequently tried to play up his nonpolitical pedigree: Since he was appointed to his US Senate seat, he liked to remind voters that his name had never appeared on a ballot before.

"People are so mad at Congress they just want to throw out all the incumbents," says Kathy Heicher, the former editor of the local paper, who has lived in Eagle for decades. Her husband, Bill, nods. He might, in fact, be counted as one of those voters. He supported Mr. Romanoff because "he may be a professional politician, but at least he's never been to Washington before. They change when they get there."