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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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Quandt and her husband, who also works, are struggling, though not as much as many here. She knows several families who have lost their homes and too many others who are losing hope. "The government has to help these people," she says of homeowners unable to pay their mortgages. "It has a role to play, to at least help keep folks on their feet with a roof over their heads."

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When she works on the line, Quandt toils beside Hispanics, Sudanese, Koreans, and native Iowans. Diversity here is as prevalent as the smell of curing pork. "We all get along," says Quandt. "We look out for each other."

She thinks America should embrace more of the same virtues – cooperation, acceptance, compromise. "The country is changing. It's getting more diverse," she says. "I accept it and think it's a good thing. Sure, there are problems at times, but if you get past the differences, you learn from one another. We need more of that in America."

A worn sign on the edge of town proclaims: "It's a Wonderful Life." Donna Reed, who starred in the movie that inspired Denison's slogan, grew up here. For a long time, locals said the town could have been a stand-in for Bedford Falls, the fictional community in Frank Capra's film that exuded traditional values and small-town virtues. Is it still?

Brian Newell emerges from the bowling alley. He works in construction, does odd jobs, anything he can to pay bills for his wife and 16-year-old son. He struggles, too, but does not share Quandt's enthusiasm for a fast-changing America – or Denison.

"We got all these [people from other] countries coming here for a better life, but we don't have a better life," Mr. Newell says. "We can barely take care of ourselves. Why are we taking care of them?"

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