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Cover Story

What Americans want from the next president

On the eve of a historically tight election, a writer drives through swing states and listens to the voices of America, hearing one overriding plea: 'Washington, stop bickering. Get something done!'

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Ann Perkins-Parrott has a more global concern that she thinks the next president should put in his in-box: reducing greenhouse gases. She owns a quaint used-book store, appropriately called The Bookcase, in Durango, a hip mountain town in southwestern Colorado.

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She says she can see the effects of global warming all around her: in the hotter, drier summers; in the more intense wildfire seasons; in the smaller snowpacks in the mountains.

"I don't care what's causing it," she says. "The government needs to do something about it – start investing more in alternative energies."

The Beaumont, Texas, native is a proud liberal whose father was good friends with Lyndon Johnson. But she embraces the idea of compromise. "There's always meeting ground somewhere out there," she says. "It's very important to meet in the middle because that's where most people live. Congress often forgets that."

Bowling alley wisdom of Iowa

Shafts of yellow light emanate from the Lucky Lanes bowling alley through two swinging doors, cutting into the darkness that has folded over Denison, in western Iowa. Inside, men and women in worn jeans and sweat shirts bearing the names of feed companies or tractors chat at tables, getting up only in the quest for a strike.

This is Carolyn Quandt's one night out, the one time she gets a few hours to herself, away from her three kids. She rises normally at 3 a.m. to go to work at Farmland Foods, a meatpacking plant that employs 1,500 people here in a town of 8,300. She puts in nine to 11 hours a day arranging strips of bacon in packages, a task that takes place in a 46 degree F. room. To stave off the cold, she usually wears three shirts, a coat, and socks as thick as a sleeping bag.

"I'm the one that lines it up and makes it look all pretty," says Ms. Quandt, laughing. "I'm just happy to have a job. You can't have a one-paycheck household anymore."

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