ABOARD THE ELECTION EXPRESS, TOMBSTONE, Arizona (CNN) – In 1886, Wyatt Earp battled outlaws at the OK Corral. Today, it’s Deputy Marshal J.D. DeMatteo keeping the peace. But his battle is with illegal immigrants.
When he is not patrolling the streets of this town near the border, he leads a volunteer posse looking for illegal immigrants.
“The coyotes are dropping off around this area,” DeMatteo said this weekend, as the CNN Election Express rolled through this historic Wild West town. Coyotes are smugglers who help illegal immigrants enter the country.
“Some of the vehicles are loaded up with drugs, and then they’re picking up on the other side in some of the washes, and then heading out trying to get to Tucson and L.A.”
DeMatteo recalled an incident when he was attacked by a group of illegal immigrants, which he said he was able to stop by firing a shotgun round into the air.
“We go out into the desert looking for locations that illegals are dropped off,” he said. “[We] track them, detain them, until border patrol arrives.”
– CNN Election Express Producer Joshua Rubin
ABOARD THE ELECTION EXPRESS, MONAHANS, Texas (CNN) – Life is good for Mayor David Cutbirth. The price of oil – the lifeblood of his West Texas city, population 7,000 - is skyrocketing.
The city of Monahans’ economy is booming now, but Cutbirth said he is worried. He has also lived through a bust, and would prefer the cost of oil to come down a little bit more. It is currently priced at over $90 a barrel. Just a few weeks ago, it reached $100.
“A growing concern out here is that energy costs would get too high, and we believe … those types of numbers will tip the economy into a recession,” he said this week during a stop by the CNN Election Express in this city. “So that has been our fear out here.”
Cutbirth said he is not sure what Congress and the White House can do to keep the price of oil within a profitable but reasonable range. But he added that Washington lawmakers need to put an emphasis on developing alternative energy sources.
“Congress and the president have started late on this thing,” Cutbirth said. “But that is what we need to do. We need to diversify the economy in terms of energy, and get away from oil.”
At some point, Cutbirth said he realizes the oil beds beneath his feet will run dry. He is working now to ensure his city is not overly-dependent on oil - which could make for hard times again in the future.
Cutbirth has a political philosophy that would seem unorthodox perhaps outside of West Texas. He votes for Democrats in local and state elections, but Republican in presidential contests.
“A lot of us think of ourselves as social Democrats and fiscal Republicans,” he said.
This year, though, Cutbirth said he is keeping all of his options open.
“If I think they are going to get in there, and they’ll do a good job for our country and make this country strong, then I am going to vote for them,” he said.
ABOARD THE ELECTION EXPRESS, ABILENE, Texas (CNN) – Lester Gilbert is 75, and he is still working. His wife is 81, and she has a job. The Gilberts don’t need to be employed, but they choose to work.
We met him in the early morning hours Friday at a truck stop as he refueled before getting back on the road. Gilbert delivers recreational vehicles for a living, and he said he is not happy with the decisions being made in Washington that are impacting the economy such as the bipartisan agreement reached Thursday on a stimulus package.
“It is OK to help people, but they put themselves in debt,” Gilbert said. “I didn’t do it, and I am going to bail them out? I don’t agree with it.”
As for the subprime mortgage issue, Gilbert said people need to personally pay the price if they are not able to afford their homes.
“Let them go belly up like I did. I never went belly, belly up, but I had to crawl and I had to do without. People don’t do without. That is the problem.”
Gilbert lives in Petersburg, Illinois, but his perspective on the economy is shaped by not only what happens in his own backyard, but what he sees as he motors down the nation’s interstate highways. Gilbert said he thinks that talk of a recession is overblown.
“It’s not weak like they think it is,” he said. “I go all over this country. People are not doing without.”
A self-described conservative, Gilbert said the politicians in Washington and presidential candidates need to change their tune.
“I want them to go back to the basics,” he said. “Just the basics.”
– CNN Political Editor Mark Preston
ABOARD THE ELECTION EXPRESS, CARLISLE, Arkansas (CNN) – Christine Bageant is likely smiling. Rick McKay is definitely frowning.
News of the bipartisan stimulus package reached Thursday in Washington means different things to different people. Bageant owns a Sonic tucked off of I-40 east of Little Rock. McKay is the proprietor of an auto repair collision shop in Searcy, northeast of this state’s capital city.
For Bageant, the measure likely means more hungry travelers, more burgers flipped, and more cash register rings. McKay, whose business is not necessarily dictated by short-term economic fixes, thinks the agreement reached by President Bush and congressional leaders is fruitless.
We spoke to both of these small business owners Wednesday as the CNN Election Express motored through Arkansas on a six-day cross-country tour to talk to voters about what are their most pressing concerns.
McKay said he would rather see a long-term fix to the nation’s economic woes. And he wants a tax cut.
“I don’t know that we need to throw a bunch of money, several billion dollars to prop up the economy,” he said, as political leaders were in the middle of hammering out final details of the plan. “Does it need to be propped up? Give me something that is going to help me in the long run. Reduce our taxes. I own my own business. If I had a tax break or if I knew I was going to pay less taxes then I would start looking at how I was going to use that money to grow my business.”
On the other hand, Bageant told us that her business is struggling, and this type of rebate plan is needed.
“If they are not spending money we are not making money,” she said. “I am a small business owner. We are struggling to pay bills month to month just like anyone else.”
But Bageant and McKay do agree on one thing: the lawmakers back in Washington need to work together to find solutions.
“Stop arguing,” she said. “You are acting like children.”
McKay added, “They are bickering. Nothing is happening in Washington. We just have nothing going on. I don’t know why these guys are even up there.”
ABOARD THE ELECTION EXPRESS, West Memphis, Arkansas (CNN) – Veda Hardy received a present last Christmas that no one would want. Had it arrived by postage, she would have handed it back to the mailman with a simple message: Return to Sender.
Hardy said she was one of 80 people laid off by her company in December 2006, while another 350 workers from another business nearby were let go. At 46, receiving a pink slip can be particularly hard. But Hardy, who lives in nearby Searcy, decided to do something about it. She went back to school.
Hardy had seen coverage of our cross country trip from South Carolina to California, where we are making stops along the way to talk to Americans about how the economy is impacting their lives, and possibly their votes.
She approached us to say that the number issue for her is job creation.
“I am currently going to school with a lot of 40-plus age bracket, and I think our concerns are with the job market,” Hardy said.
The issue of jobs even trumped Iraq, a war her son served in for 14 months as a gunner on a M1 Abrams Tank. She supports the U.S. efforts in Iraq and quotes her son about how we hear very little about the achievements being made in the war torn country.
“We tend to look at the negative so much of the war, of the cost, and yes we have loss of lives, oh my goodness,” Hardy said. “But he came home and said ‘Mom you just don’t hear the news reporting about getting electricity, getting running water, clean water. Women can vote.’”
Still, for Hardy it is about jobs.
ABOARD THE ELECTION EXPRESS, Birmingham, Alabama (CNN) – The cost of diesel was $3.26 a gallon Wednesday at the Pilot Travel Center, but the biggest concern for independent trucker Charles Dye wasn’t the price of fuel. It was NAFTA.
When Dye first got behind the wheel of his rig eight years ago, the 28-year-old said he grossed $180,000. Last year, Dye said he made $65,000 before expenses - barely enough to live on as he ran roofing oil between Memphis, Tennessee and Savannah, Georgia. He is on the road 20 days a month.
Because he is an independent contractor, Dye has to purchase his own health insurance. Right now, he is not covered. Luckily, the mother of his four-year-old child does have insurance, which helps alleviate the financial burden.
The North American Free Trade Agreement, which loosened restrictions on goods and services between the U.S., Mexico and Canada, is to blame for the hit he is taking in the wallet, he said.
“It was hard for me to make a living last year other than the years before, because of the way they opened the borders and let the trucks come over and practically do work for nothing,” he said, as the gasoline flowed from the pump into his rig.
ABOARD THE ELECTION EXPRESS, Atlanta (CNN) - Once he gets access to the Internet, Lavvy Deondre is confident he will be able to turn his life around.
Deondre is relatively new to Atlanta, and he doesn’t own a computer. Every night he finds a new place to rest his head. Deondre is homeless, but he is also optimistic. He just needs the Internet.
“I want access to the Internet, search the Internet and then try to make some plans to come up with an idea,” Deondre said late Tuesday night as a cold rain soaked his clothes, but clearly not his spirit.
Ali Velshi and I ran into him after talking with several international businessmen following our 400 mile drive from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina – the first leg of our cross-country journey to hear what is on voters’ minds.
The two conversations couldn’t have been anymore different. While the group of businessmen talked about how the impact of the U.S. markets affected the global economy, Deondre said the need to build affordable, safe housing was his top priority.
ABOARD THE ELECTION EXPRESS, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (CNN) – Gene Hall didn’t watch Monday night’s Democratic presidential debate. The 46-year-old father of four was working – delivering pizzas until late into the night.
It was Hall’s second shift of the day. Earlier, he was behind the wheel of his Beach Boy taxi. Hall told me he has no insurance - when one of his children needs to go to the doctor, he pays out of his own pocket.
“If I was to get sick for two or three days, I am in trouble,” he said.
The plight of the uninsured is a central theme in this year’s presidential race. But unlike many people who are calling for a universal health care plan, Hall doesn’t think that is the answer.
“Somebody is going to have to pay for it,” said Hall, who added he thinks it would mean an increase in taxes. A tax increase is a hit to the wallet that Hall cannot afford.
ABOARD THE ELECTION EXPRESS, South Carolina (CNN) – The country is at war, the economy is stalling, and the presidential candidates are fighting over everything from universal health care to illegal immigration.
The Democratic and Republican White House hopefuls are offering their plans, but is America listening? Over the next six days we will search for that answer, and provide Americans an opportunity to say what’s on their minds as the CNN Election Express motors from Myrtle Beach to Los Angeles.
For the past year, if you lived in Iowa or New Hampshire, South Carolina or Nevada, chances are you bumped into Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, John McCain or Barack Obama.
These states have made their voices heard - except for South Carolina’s Democrats, who vote on Saturday - but were the voters in Alabama or New Mexico listening?
The candidates had better hope so. Voters in these states and 22 others head to the polls on February 5, when 1,681 Democratic and 1020 Republican delegates are up for grabs.
This is no planned tour. We are going to make unscheduled stops in little towns and big cities, truck stops and diners. When we pull over, CNN’s Ali Velshi will be jumping off the bus to hear what’s on voters’ minds, while I blog along the way.
We begin our journey in South Carolina, and end in California: 2,600 miles and the lives and stories of millions of Americans lie in-between.
So, tune into CNN and The Ticker throughout the day and night for the latest from the road.
– CNN Political Editor Mark Preston