BBC News Online hit the road to find out what really matters to Americans as they prepare to elect a president.
Between 10 and 23 September, reporters Richard Greene and Kevin Anderson visited five states to try to shed light on the issues that make the headlines - and some that don't.
They sent back a series of regular in-depth reports telling us what they found. Kevin also tracked the ups and downs of their journey in a blog.
Click on the map above to see in detail where our reporters went, and scroll down the page to read more about them and their personal thoughts about of the trip.
I was born and raised in the United States - just down the road from Kevin, in fact, by American standards -
but it's been 13 years since I last lived there.
Those have been momentous years, long enough for the world to change not just once but at least twice.
In 10 words or less: Long-time American expat, new father, diehard Chicago Cubs baseball fan
On the road, I'll be reading: The Boys of Summer by
Roger Kahn - a book about the legendary Brooklyn Dodgers, the first baseball team to break the colour barrier by hiring a black player. And all the local papers I can get my hands on
I'll miss most: My baby daughter and her mother
A Cold War has ended and a War on Terror has begun. The economy has busted and boomed and busted again. A President George Bush has left the White House and a President George Bush has entered it.
But in this ever-changing world, have Americans themselves changed?
This year's neck-and-neck election provides a welcome opportunity to hit the road and get back in touch with America and Americans.
In this increasingly uncertain world, what frightens them? And in this ever-optimistic
country, what inspires them?
I know what the politicians, the papers and the polls say, but that's not always the same as what the people say.
As Bob Dylan once wrote, the country I come from is called the Midwest, 90 miles west of Chicago.
It's out beyond the sprawling suburbs and closer to Wisconsin dairy country than the Windy City. It's farmland, with gently rolling hills and field after field of corn.
In 10 words or less: Soccer-playing, high-mountain backpacking, well-adjusted geek (mostly)
On the road, I'll be reading: Better than Sex, Confessions of a Political Junkie by Hunter S Thompson. As the Amazon review says, Thompson offers his own "mind-bending view of the 1992 presidential campaign, in all its horror, sacrifice, lust, and dubious glory".
I'll miss most: If I don't say my girlfriend, I won't have a place to sleep when I get back
I don't know if it is that mythical place people call Middle America, that place where the purest proto-American lives.
But I do touch base with my parents often to see what they're thinking because they're part of that radical middle - politically not geographically - that I tend to think make up the great majority of the American electorate.
I have been to 49 of the 50 states in the US. Hawaii is still on my to-do list, and if there is one thing that I have learned is that it is risky to generalise about Americans.
I'm sure that from the outside we must look a lot alike, especially if your main exposure to us is movies and reruns of Friends. But it's a big country with a lot of different ideas.
I've spent six years in Washington, and the US can start to look a lot less interesting than it really is from there. Polls make the country out to be warring camps of God-on-our-side conservatives and latte-drinking, Volvo-driving liberals.
Reality is always more interesting than that.