[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Languages
Last Updated: Thursday, 16 September, 2004, 18:17 GMT 19:17 UK
Weblog: US election road trip - I

BBC News Online reporters Kevin Anderson and Richard Greene are travelling across America to get to the heart of the issues central to this year's election.

Here you can read Kevin's personal thoughts from the road.

16 SEPTEMBER :: TEXAS :: 0200 GMT

Miles: Again flying at 8 miles a minute (thanks for the correction Peter from Cardiff)

Cups of coffee (cumulative): 24

We're in the air to Austin right now, and it's a good time to catch up with your questions.

Rob from the Netherlands, we did meet an undecided voter, Randel Cameron, at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs.

He said that he was praying for God to help him make a decision, and some it came down to not John Kerry or George Bush but their running mates.

Randel really liked John Edwards, but he wasn't thrilled about Dick Cheney. But he's really the only undecided voter we've met so far. Pollsters think that only a small fraction of electorate are actually "persuadable" this election.

I've heard figures as low as 11%, so they are a rare creature, and it's one of the reasons that both campaigns and both parties are working like mad to turn out their base.

Paul from Newbury, England asked whether we were finding equal measure of hatred for George Bush and John Kerry.

I just asked Richard, and he said: "I don't think we've found anything towards Kerry like the scorn for Bush."

We've encountered raw animosity and rage towards not only towards George Bush but towards his supporters as well.

John Kerry doesn't seem to elicit that kind of visceral response from his detractors. But as a lot of poll-watchers will tell you, when a president runs for re-election in the US, it's basically a referendum on the incumbent.

People are voting for or against the sitting president.

Paul, you also asked: "To what extent are people more worried about the terrorist threat to the exclusion of bread and butter issues?"

I only have to point to Defannie Davis. She was the woman we interviewed about health care. Her husband suffered a massive stroke in January 2002.

Neither she nor her husband had health insurance, and they have tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills. She wants to become a professional advocate for health care reform in the US.

Even she said that terrorism was a bigger concern for her than health care. Just one example, but it supports the polls I mentioned earlier. American voters still say that war, terrorism and national security are the most important issues in this election.

Keep those questions coming, and thanks to those who have responded to others questions. It's a great conversation.

15 SEPTEMBER :: TEXAS :: 1945 GMT

Miles: 2693

Cups of coffee: 24

I think my coffee obsession has reached a new level - or possibly it was just an hallucination caused by lack of sleep.

This morning, in hotel breakfast bar, I could have sworn that instead of the premium coffee, the java machine said premium caffeine.

Jean Ferguson of Colorado Springs
Jean wants to see Bush out of office

At any rate, many of you have asked about strategic or tactical voting for a third-party candidate by people who think they are poorly served by the two mainstream parties.

You might want to take a look at the story I did from the protests in New York City during the Republican Party convention.

I met Stephanie Jennings from San Diego who had voted for Ralph Nader in the last election, but her priority this election was defeating George W Bush.

She wanted to vote for a third-party candidate again because she wanted to send a message to the Democratic Party.

But she would only vote Green if she thought her state of California was a lock for John Kerry.

On this trip, we have heard from a number of people who aren't thrilled by the mainstream choices, but so far, we haven't met people who plan to vote for a third party.

Again, the priority for many left-leaning voters who might consider casting their ballot for a third party is sending George Bush back to Texas.

Jean Ferguson of Colorado Springs was a delegate for progressive Democrat Dennis Kucinich to the Democratic Party convention.

During his candidacy, Mr Kucinich advocated for the creation of a Department of Peace, an agency that would seek non-violent solutions to conflicts.

It impressed Jean, who says she works for peace and justice issues.

Although Mr Kucinich didn't win the party's nomination, she said she will vote for John Kerry. "I think that's my only choice right now," she said.

"I do not want George Bush in the office, so on a practical matter, I need to vote for John Kerry because he is the only other viable candidate," she said.

Up in Boulder, I thought for sure that we would meet Green Party supporters, and I'm sure they're out there. We just didn't meet any.

We interviewed Mike Lord about what role his faith, his spirituality would play in his vote.

"I believe in a universal oneness, that everybody is connected to everybody else and the planet offers everything that everyone could need. No one needs to be homeless, hungry or hated," he told us.

And he didn't think that either George Bush or John Kerry was speaking to his issues.

But vote for a third party? No way.

"I've looked into the Green party and I've looked into the Nader thing, and they do seem more attractive," he said.

But he said they didn't seem to have much backing or any real influence. A vote for a third party would be basically the same as not voting at all, he said.

I try to slide that third-party question into interviews with people who seem disenchanted with the two major parties, but so far, I'm not hearing much in the way of support for alternative parties. I'll keep asking.

Read more: [External websites]

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

15 SEPTEMBER :: DENVER :: 0723 GMT

Miles: I've moved about 50 metres since my last entry
Cups of coffee (cumulative): 21

Well, as I have said, I was stung by Stephen from South Dakota's criticism that we were missing rural America.

This is in part because my first journalism job was in western Kansas where we joked, "It's not the middle of nowhere, but you can see it from here."

When I was there, I watched the heartbreaking battles of small towns trying to save their schools.

People had been leaving the area for decades, and there just weren't enough children left to justify keeping the school open.

But the remaining families fought to keep their school, because they feared that if the school closed that it was just a matter of time before the town died.

They had seen it too many times in too many small towns.

My editor used to quiz me on where small towns were all across western Kansas.

Every once and a while, he would laugh devilishly and say: "Trick question. It doesn't exist anymore. It's a ghost town!"

Ken Salazar
Ken Salazar want incentives for businesses to move to rural areas
But fortunately, we were able to talk about rural issues today with Colorado's Democratic candidate for the US Senate, Ken Salazar.

He's locked in a tight race with Republican Pete Coors.

When he was running to become the state attorney general in 1998, he admits that he was an underdog.

He campaigned for a year and a half, travelling to all of the 64 counties of Colorado in a pickup truck.

"In some places, I would meet with 100 people. In some counties, I would end up meeting with one or two people," he said.

"What that experience showed me is that people - especially in what I call the forgotten part of America, the rural communities - very much appreciate that somebody would go and listen to the issues that they care about," he added.

For him, the two key issues facing rural Colorado - and more broadly, rural America - are economics and healthcare.

"Their populations are declining, and their economic well being has been in decline," he said.

He wants to provide tax credits and other incentives and venture capital for companies to relocate to rural parts of the state.

Affordable healthcare is a problem across the United States, but Mr Salazar says the problem is especially acute in rural America.

Health insurance premiums have been rising at 20 to 25% annually in some rural parts of Colorado, he said.

He wants to develop a scholarship programme for medical and nursing students who would commit to working in rural areas.

And he says that something must be done for the 62% of people who work for small businesses who don't have health insurance.

"I want to be the champion for the forgotten of America, the rural parts of Colorado," he said.

Well, we're off to Texas tomorrow looking into how President Bush appeals to voters.

14 SEPTEMBER :: DENVER :: 2330 GMT

Miles: 2658
Cups of coffee (cumulative): 21

The Traveller's Juke & Java internet cafe in Boulder has been both a great place to work and a great place to take the pulse of politics here.

Ron Tomich
Ron Tomich: Not pro-Bush, but hard to get excited about Kerry
Owner Ron Tomich has voter registration forms strategically stationed near the counter and says that compared to four years ago, more people are talking about the election: "The last time it was dull."

This election, he said he hasn't seen such passions, such division since the Vietnam-era.

He comes from a large family and sees the divide amongst family members.

As a matter of fact, Ron was worried that voicing his opinion might get him in trouble.

He said that if he was pro-Bush - which he most definitely isn't - but if he was, he said he would "lose a lot of customers".

But no, he's solidly in the ABB camp, "Anybody but Bush", as is "80% of Boulder", he said.

But that's not to say that this is representative of Colorado.

In fact, a patron grumbled while I was talking to Ron that she wishes the rest of the state outside of liberal Boulder and Denver would go away, "especially Colorado Springs".

What's driving this division? "It's Bush. He wears his religion on his sleeve. The Iraq War. It's easy to get worked up about that," Ron said.

He lived abroad for many years in China and Japan. He remembers being impressed when Bill Clinton won over a hostile crowd in Beijing.

But as for George W Bush, "he has been the worst president for our international image," he said.

He said that he was working to "send Bush back to Texas".

All that aside, it's anger towards President Bush not enthusiasm for John Kerry that is his motivation.

"I've tried hard to get excited about Kerry, but that's hard," he said.

14 SEPTEMBER :: DENVER :: 1820 GMT

Miles: 2600
Cups of coffee (cumulative): 20

I have a confession to make. I almost kidnapped Richard last night.

Well, I almost tied him to the front seat of the hire car and forcibly took him to Estes Park Colorado, the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park.

Kevin in Colorado
Obligations to the blog keep me from running into the mountains

Once we were there - probably even on the beautiful drive - he would have seen the logic of this, but I needed him to be compliant while I focused on navigating the winding mountain roads.

But it made perfect sense for a while. It's much easier to write with a clear head, a good cup of coffee and lungs full of crisp mountain air.

Don't worry Megan [Richard's wife], I promise I'll return him unharmed. Besides, Richard tells me that you're fiercely protective and not to be trifled with.

Fortunately, my superego body slammed my id, and I realised that my responsibility to the blog trumped my own need to revisit one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Space. Big skies and towering mountains. This is the American West, and the Colorado's Front Range is just a civilised teaser for what lies beyond that first ridge.

Author Wallace Stegner, one of the first Western American authors, knows more about the impact of the West on the American psyche.

As he said: "History was part of the baggage we threw overboard when we launched ourselves into the New World. We threw it away because it repealed old tyrannies, old limitations, galling obligations, bloody memories."

He continues: "Plunging into the future through a landscape that had no history, we did both the country and ourselves some harm along with some good."

I know there are lots of cowboy clichés being thrown around with respect to the US these days because people outside America perceive George Dubya as the cowpoke-in-chief.

But there really is something about the wide open spaces and myths of the American West that help shape US politics beyond the camp cowboy mythology.

That's more the subject for a book than a blog and Wallace Stegner has written a number of them.

But just to give you a flavour of the place, as Richard and I drove to our first interview today, we saw someone with a sign around their license plate: "My other car is a horse."

When we landed, I took Richard to one of my favourite micro-breweries, Wynkoop's in Denver's lower downtown, that's Lo-Do to the locals.

Here you can have a buffalo burger, and a few years ago, when I passed through, my girlfriend at the time had elk medallions for dinner.

You can also have fish and chips and shepherd's pie, but I stuck with local fare, having a nice cup of green chilli.

I made Richard drink chilli beer, "A light German style beer in which we have added 3½ lb of Anaheim chillies to each barrel."

It's more of a tactile experience than a culinary experience. It burns going down, and then the alcohol puts out the fire. Best served cold with nachos.

Well, we have to dash. I'm in a very bloggy mood today. We've spoken to quite a few people about strategic voting and third parties. More on that later.

Oh yeah, and I've got to write about the Adventure Rabbi - can't forget that. So much to blog and so little time.

Read more: [External websites]

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

14 SEPTEMBER :: BOULDER :: 0553 GMT

Miles: 2585
Cups of coffee (cumulative): 19

Richard and I are sitting here on Pearl Street pedestrian mall in Boulder Colorado.

The city has such a reputation as a liberal stronghold that some people refer to it as the "People's Republic of Boulder".

But just as market reforms in the People's Republic of China (PRC) have led to an economic explosion, here in the PRB, entrepreneurial zeal and liberal outrage towards President Bush are keeping food on the table and beer in the fridge for at least one recent college graduate.

Richard met William Palmieri on the Pearl Street mall hawking his wares.

William moved out here to be with his girlfriend.

Ban a Republican t-shirt
William Palmieri is making money at the Republican's expense
He works only a few days a week, but hit upon the idea of selling anti-Bush t-shirts as a way to supplement his meagre income.

He's not keen about either party or their candidates, but he said, "Bush is the most ridiculous."

William approved of President Bush's father and the way he addressed the nation, but he's not impressed with this president's podium-pounding delivery. "He thinks we're fools."

But rather than simply smoulder with anger at the president, he thought he'd earn a buck at the president's expense.

With a sly turn of phrase and a wink to fashion retailers Banana Republic, William is selling "Ban a Republican" shirts for $8 each.

He had 150 printed up, and "I sold close to half in three days."

"It's the first entrepreneurial thing I've done," he added.

It's the kind of initiative that would make a Republican proud, if it wasn't taking a swipe at their party, that is.

Read more: [External websites]

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

13 SEPTEMBER :: COLORADO SPRINGS :: 1812 GMT

Miles: 2574
Cups of coffee (cumulative): 18

I miss sarcastic, witty waitresses in greasy spoon restaurants.

In Washington, we don't really have the classic cafe, lunch counter waitresses, long on gab, with a wit quicker than a short-order cook.

This morning, I went to our hotel restaurant here in Colorado Springs for the complimentary buffet breakfast.

The waitress asked: "Coffee?"

"Absolutely. Bring it on," I said without a moment's hesitation. Note Richard's comments about my obsession with coffee.

Coffee still-life
Coffee: A practical obsession

It's a practical obsession driven by the need to continue to function on little sleep. I'm still not fully recovered from the exercise in sleep deprivation that was the Republican convention.

"Tough," she replies sarcastically with a smile.

"Look, I need coffee so badly, I would pick the beans myself," I said. My cup was filled faster than I could grab myself a bowl of raisin bran.

I was engrossed in reading The Rocky Mountain News and was more savouring than guzzling my cuppa joe, but the waitress - like all good ones - seemed to appear every few seconds to give me a top-up.

"All that talk about needing coffee, and you're hardly touching it," she said.

Ah, it is nice to take a break from political debates and indulge in witty repartee with a whip-smart waitress.

Coffee, which makes the politicians wise
And see through all things with his half-shut eyes

Alexander Pope, The Rape of the Lock

Stephen from South Dakota, you're right, we're a little urban centre heavy on this trip. Chalk that up to the vagaries of air travel in the US.

To do this trip in two weeks, we basically had to fly from hub to hub.

Most US airlines operate on a hub-and-spoke system, where they funnel most traffic through a few major airports.

But I appreciate your comment about the red-state/blue-state, urban/rural divide.

My first reporting job was in north-western Kansas. I covered nine counties and 1,100 square miles.

About a half-hour west of where I lived, there were only on average two people per 50 square miles. It's a different world to cities, with different concerns.

But we'll try to stop off between Austin and San Antonio to get a flavour of what people are talking about in rural America.

In the meantime, keep those comments and questions coming in. They help fill in the opinions we might not be able to get to in our two-week dash.

Read more: [External websites]

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

13 SEPTEMBER :: COLORADO SPRINGS :: 0652 GMT

Miles: 2574
Cups of coffee (cumulative): 15

Sunday morning, we went to what can only be described as a mega-church. The New Life Church claims 11,000 members.

We were caught in a minor traffic jam getting into the parking lot as one service ended and another began.

The church is the process of adding more parking spaces and building a 120,000 square foot addition with 7,500 seats. During the week, it must be a hive of construction activity.

Church
Worshipping at the New Life Church
They have a satellite church downtown, and a global web-based prayer mission.

The church even has its own cappuccino bar in the lobby. Richard says my coffee obsession is showing.

Richard and I attended the late morning service. Although we were starting to flag from long hours of work and travel, there was little chance we would drift off.

The service was part old time revival and part gospel rock concert.

Associate Pastor Ross Parsley led the audience in rousing poppy songs. Most of the audience seemed to know the words, but just in case, they were projected onto large screens at the front of the auditorium.

The audience was diverse, both in age and ethnicity. Richard and I even noticed a Goth couple in the back with multiple piercings and lots of tattoos.

After the singing and tithes and offerings, Pastor Ted Haggard - who also is the president of the National Association of Evangelicals - gave the sermon: "Obedience, life and death".

"Everybody ready to study the Word? Yes or No?" he asked.

The geek in me loved the fact that he read his bible quotes not from a proper paper Bible but had them zapped to his handheld computer wirelessly by a tech support team.

To illustrate his lesson on obedience, he used the example of Moses as someone who was obedient to God's will, mostly, except that one time when he wasn't. And God almost killed him for it.

But it wasn't all about an omnipotent God ready to smite you if you stepped out of line.

Evangelicals believe in a deeply personal relationship with a loving God through Jesus Christ.

As Pastor Ted put it, "God is a person. He knows your name. He knows your age. He knows whether you brushed your teeth this morning."

This was a high-energy, high-emotion crowd. By the closing prayer, some of the young members of the audience were literally moved to tears.

We talked to a few people after the service to find out how religion would influence their vote.

Broadly, they were concerned about abortion, stem cell research, and the appointment of Supreme Court judges who reflect their views.

But, we also found a rare political creature, an undecided voter. He had been backing Bush but was giving the Kerry-Edwards team a second look.

More on that later, but you'll have to wait until mid-week when Richard writes his piece on the role religion is playing for voters in this election.

Read more: [External websites]

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

12 SEPTEMBER :: COLORADO SPRINGS :: 2400 GMT

Miles: 2457

Cups of coffee (cumulative): 13

The residents of Colorado Springs in their Sunday best were all filing into their respective churches as Richard and I drove to the First Congregational Church.

The church was holding a discussion called "Your Faith, Your Vote".

This Sunday's discussion was with two women, one who had gone to the Democratic Party convention in Boston and the other who had gone to the Republican Party convention in New York.

Discussions at the First Congregational Church in Colorado Springs
Colorado churchgoers discuss politics
They talked about their experiences at the convention, and then opened the floor to questions.

Ellen Brown was hopping mad.

"Every time I turn on the TV, I hear about the swift boat, and I want to get off that boat," she said.

She was, of course, talking about controversy with the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which has attacked John Kerry over his service 35 years ago in Vietnam and his anti-war activities when he returned.

"I am so tired about talking about the past. I want to hear about the future, about issues, about healthcare and the economy," she said.

But she wasn't just upset about the distraction caused by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, she wanted to ban all such non-party political groups that have exploded since the last election, the so-called 527s.

They are called 527s because that is the chapter such groups fall under in the US tax code.

And the groups are not just Republican-friendly groups like the Swift Boat Vets. Actually, more money flows to Democratic-friendly 527s, such as MoveOn.org.

Ironically, such non-party political groups have exploded as a result of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law.

Campaign finance experts call it the balloon effect. If you squeeze a balloon, the air just moves somewhere else.

With campaign finance, shut off one loophole, another is found, and the money moves there.

"These 527s get rid of them. They can throw out just whatever they want," Ellen said.

But the parties have teams of lawyers to find the next loophole. Kill the 527s, and something else will rise to take their place.

Read more: [External websites]

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

12 SEPTEMBER :: COLORADO :: 1450 GMT

Miles: 2455

Cups of coffee (cumulative): 12

We've gone from the flat plains of Michigan to the foot of the Front Range, the stunning wall that is the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains.

We're going to visit churches this morning in Colorado Springs to get a sense of how much religion is playing a role in people's vote. More on that later.

But on the flight I was thinking back to conversations we had with voters in Detroit.

In Washington, we have always said that this campaign was going to be nasty, the political equivalent of trench warfare where the candidates and allies launch merciless attacks on the opposition to win a few polling points of advantage.

John Rakolta Jnr
John Rakolta is disappointed by the tone and content of the debate

And it has become nasty. Both the campaigns, veterans groups supportive of one candidate or the other, and the 527 interest groups like liberal MoveOn.org have taken off the gloves.

But the mudslinging is taking its toll. Voters are turned off, not to the point that they will stay home on Election Day, but they want to hear more about issues.

"There's just all this backstabbing," said Frank Ostrowski, one of the unemployed voters we spoke to in Detroit. He plans to vote for John Kerry.

But he's not just looking at what the candidates are saying right now but what they have done over the last two years, but he's tuning out the noise right now.

John Rakolta Junior is a Republican, the chairman and CEO of international construction agency Walbridge Aldinger.

He is a long-time Republican with pictures of himself with Bob Dole, Dan Quayle and even the late Ronald Reagan. He plans to vote for George Bush because he believes in his economic policies and his conduct of the war on terror.

But, he considers himself a part of a moderate "Silent Majority". He doesn't vote straight-ticket Republican.

He's religious, a Mormon, but divisive social issues don't play a major role in his decisions in the voting booth. "In most highly charged debates, it's the fringes that define the debate," he added.

And although he supported the war in Iraq, he says it's wrong to call those who didn't support the war unpatriotic.

And like Frank, he's turned off by the strident, nasty tone of politics. "In Washington, that's the problem. I'm disappointed that the debate is not more intellectual."

Both Frank and John have decided who they will vote for.

Now, I'm curious to find out how the harsh tone of the campaign is affecting undecided voters.

11 SEPTEMBER :: SOMEWHERE 35,000 FEET OVER OHIO :: 0930 (1330 GMT)

Miles: Piling up as we fly at eight miles a minute
Cups of coffee (cumulative): 11

Avast, there be swing voters! We're flying over the battleground state Ohio, one of the handful of states where the voters actually get more face-time with John Kerry and George Bush than their wives.

Richard Greene
Richard is busy writing and has stopped worrying about missing our connection
I'm imagining armies of Republican and Democratic volunteers beating down doors, manning stands at apple festivals and county fairs, telling voters that the future of western civilisation hangs in the balance and: can they count on their vote and/or the maximum campaign contribution allowed by law?

We're up early for the flight to Denver via Atlanta.

And I'm rubbing my frequent flier cards for good luck because it could be one of those travel days where we miss connections and end up hopping across the country on standby flights to increasingly obscure airports in some vain hope of reaching our final destination before next July.

First for some inexplicable reason, a plane is parked behind ours preventing us from leaving the gate.

Then just as we start to pull away from the gate, we stop. After several minutes, the captain comes over the intercom to tell us that the tow-bar pushing the plane back from the stand snapped in half.

The moments ticked by, and Richard asked me how much time we had before our connection.

We feared that our connecting flight would be half way on the other side of Atlanta's sprawling Hartsfield-Jackson airport and that we would miss our connection even riding at ridiculously high speeds in some courtesy buggy.

But, finally we pushed back and took off, the Great Lakes shimmering below us in the morning sun.

We're just passing over Dayton Ohio. It's some 40 degrees below zero Celsius outside the plane our captain says.

He assures us that we'll arrive on time, and somewhere down there is a frantic campaign worker pleading for an undecided voter to decide.

11 SEPTEMBER :: 0700 (1100 GMT) DETROIT

Miles: 556
Cups of coffee (cumulative): 10

Coming to Detroit - aka Motor City, Hockeytown - is something of a homecoming for me. I used to live 45 minutes west of here in the university town of Ann Arbor.

Detroit street
Detroit is making a slow return
I remember the first time I came to the city in October of 1997. I got completely lost and ended up downtown.

I grew up west of Chicago, which had its own economic problems and blighted areas, but I had never seen anything like this.

The city was starting to recover from the economic disaster of the 1970s and 80s, but whole blocks of downtown Detroit were eerie with seemingly abandoned buildings with boarded up store fronts.

The economic downturn had an amazing psychological impact on not only the residents of Detroit but of people all over Michigan.

Many friends who grew up in state used to tell me of how their parents brought them to Hudson's department store on Woodward Street to do their Christmas shopping.

The store had long since closed, and no new tenant could be found.

It would be as if Selfridges and most of the shops on Oxford Street in London or Macys on Herald Square in New York shut, and the shopping districts became ghost towns.

That was my memory of downtown Detroit seven years ago, and I was told it that it was much better in 1997 then it had been five years earlier.

I came back to Detroit, wondering what I would find.

There are still parts with the grimy storefronts of long shut shops, but much of it is being renovated. Construction crews are everywhere.

Greektown - which has long been an anchor for redevelopment efforts - has added a casino. The Detroit Tigers baseball team has moved to a new stadium in the heart of downtown.

And every block of Woodward Street seemed to have an ad for soon-to-be-for-sale luxury loft apartments.

It's good to see new life there. But it's the same kind of redevelopment I see in Washington.

The luxury lofts are priced for highly-paid professionals, far out of the price range of most young single people or young families.

They are pushed to marginal areas with aging housing and higher crime rates.

Affordable housing is not an issue in this campaign, but with the housing boom carrying on even during the recent recession, I wonder how long it will be before it makes it into the national debate.

But I'm happy to see a revitalised Detroit. Now we leave Detroit and fly to Denver.

11 SEPTEMBER :: DETROIT :: 0040 (0440 GMT)

Miles: 514
Cups of coffee (cumulative): Nine (had to cut down, caffeine shakes made holding the camera steady difficult)

Completely random experience of the day? Eating Tex-Mex in Greektown in Detroit while watching the Everton-Man City match.

It was the American cultural blender at its finest.

And I noticed that this Tex-Mex restaurant had more Canadian beers than Mexican, more Molson than Modelo.

As Richard astutely observed, where we were sitting in Detroit, Canada was actually "south of the border" instead of Mexico.

Seemingly Bullet-hole ridden car
Could these be real bullet holes?
A few hours later, we were barrelling down Interstate 96 when for the second time in a day we noticed what looked like bullet holes in the back of a car.

Detroit used to be known as a wild town, but I couldn't believe that we would see bullet-hole ridden cars.

Driving down the road at 70mph (112 km/h), it was hard to tell if the bullet holes were real or not.

With Richard manning the camera and me focussing on driving as close as possible to the car (kids don't try this at home), we got close enough for a good shot and a good look.

I was convinced that they were real until we passed the car and saw that there wasn't any raised metal. Just some kind of decal or sticker.

A quick Google shows they can be had for $6 (£3.30). What an odd fashion statement?

10 SEPTEMBER :: DETROIT :: 2355 (0355 GMT)

Thanks for all the great questions. Keep them coming.

Ryan from Aberdeen, Scotland, you asked: "Are international issues really preying on people's minds as in the past it has normally come down to internal politics such as the economy?"

Well, Googling around doing some research for a story on the political impact of 9/11 three years after the fact, I stumbled across a Pew Center for the People and the Press poll.

"For the first time since the Vietnam era, foreign affairs and national security issues are looming larger than economic concerns in a presidential election," the poll found.

The poll said that when asked, 41% of respondents thought that war/foreign policy/terrorism was the most important problem facing the nation.

Only 26% thought that economic issues were the most important problem.

When I was at the Republican Convention last week, most of the party activists that I met there listed the war on terror and national security as the most important issue facing the United States.

The Republicans made 11 September and national security central to their convention and central to the hopes of re-electing George W Bush, but these folks were genuinely concerned about terrorism and national security.

Anthea from Fitchburg, Massachusetts, you asked what people thought about third parties.

Interestingly enough, we were talking to Julie Ann Van Ameyde, a Republican small business owner on Friday in Plymouth, Michigan.

We were talking about the bulletin boards and blogs she likes reading - Democratic, Republican and Libertarian.

When we were talking to her, her views actually tilted very Libertarian. She wanted little government and little regulation.

But she said: "We don't really have a Libertarian Party that has a viable candidate that the media is talking about."

The party really does have a nominee, Michael Badnarik, who will appear on the ballot in 48 states. No mean feat.

The Libertarian Party says it stands for:

  • individual liberty and personal responsibility
  • a free-market economy of abundance and prosperity
  • a foreign policy of non-intervention, peace and free trade.

Let me hear from you Libertarians out there. Greens?

Check out the link below for a really exhaustive list of so-called third party candidates running for president this year.

Read more: [External websites]

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

10 SEPTEMBER :: DETROIT :: 1405 (1805 GMT)

Miles: 447
Cups of coffee (cumulative): Eight

I live in Washington, and I'm used to having my consciousness saturated with political messages.

Graffiti
Political messages come in various shapes and forms
Statements, causes, talking points are everywhere. People's backpacks and bags sometimes seem held together with political buttons, and our airwaves are filled with political ads and pundits. I live in the ultimate Spin City.

Outside Washington, you have to look a little harder sometimes to find political messages. But they're still there, just less co-ordinated.

For instance, stopping off at a bookstore this afternoon to use the Wi-Fi in the café, the wall had some really pointed political graffiti.

"George W Bush is an al-Qaeda shareholder," someone had written, after crossing out "operative".

Another person wrote: "All Repugs - Fear the Donkey in 2004", referring to the Democratic Party's donkey mascot.

But that was just the beginning. Later, as I was taking a break to get in some exercise in the fitness centre in the hotel, a man provided running commentary about news on TV.

The man said he lived in Indianapolis, had lived in Hong Kong and was from New York originally, which gave him the right to be cynical.

When the station aired a report about Osama Bin Laden's lieutenant Ayman al-Zawahri mocking the US in a videotaped statement, he said, "I'm surprised the Republicans didn't trot him out the convention".

When I asked him what he thought al-Zawahri might have said, he said, "Vote for Wubya".

And he heaped scorn on the Republicans for their convention and their bravado about national security when prominent Republican leaders did not serve in the military.

"Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld! Those chickenhawks!" he said.

Instead of serving in the military in the 1960s, Vice-President Cheney has been quoted as saying he had "other priorities".

To be fair, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld served in the Navy as a pilot and flight instructor from 1954-57, and he served in the reserves until 1975.

But it's an election year. Passions are running high. Even in the weight room!

Thanks for all the great questions. I'm running around town for interviews right now and will answer some of them tonight when not in motion.

10 SEPTEMBER :: DETROIT :: 0925 (1325 GMT)

Miles: 367
Cups of coffee: Six (cumulative)

After an interview in east Detroit, I desperately needed a cup of coffee - which will be a running theme on this trip - so we pulled off at the Dawn Donuts.

Coney Island Restaurant
Time for some doughnuts
Even late in the morning, they still had a selection of doughnuts that would make Homer Simpson drool.

After getting a Bavarian creme-filled pastry we sat down next to Jeremiah Moore, assistant pastor of a church here.

We asked him how things were for him and he said he got up every day and praised the Lord.

He played it pretty close to the vest until we told him we were talking to people about the election. Then he said: "Bush is a thief - and I don't like thieves."

It's a sentiment I often hear from African-Americans. And it's amazing that their anger hasn't subsided much in the past four years.

President Bush will get few votes from African-Americans. Most polls show 90% support John Kerry, with the remaining 10% supporting Mr Bush.

The Republican Party knows it has a problem.

Last week at the Republican convention, master strategist Karl Rove told a group of Young Republicans that there probably wasn't much they could do for this election. It was a problem that would take generations to change.

At least for this generation, many African-Americans see the Republican Party as the one that stole the election.

10 SEPTEMBER :: DETROIT :: 0207 (0607 GMT)

Miles: 26
Cups of coffee: Two

Washington's Dulles Airport is probably one of the few airports in the country with a shop that sells political souvenirs.

Goods on sale at Washington's Dulles Airport
Bipartisan merchandise at Dulles Airport
But unlike the US Congress, the shop makes a fair attempt to be bipartisan.

Right next to a Hail to the Chef BBQ apron are shirts, hats, mugs and stickers with a black and white graphic of Edvard Munch's "The Scream" with the question: "Bush Again?"

This is where our trip begins.

As we prepare to taxi to the runway, we were entertained and told of the safety features of our Canadair regional jet by Morgan, a flight attendant with a buttery South Carolinian accent and a dry sense of humour.

She says, "If you have the need for nicotine, roll down the window (if you do I'll give you a dollar) or step out onto the wing where I've duct-taped some deck chairs."

My flight from Washington to Detroit had to leapfrog over the remnants of Hurricane Frances. She had done her worst to Florida and the South, and by the time she got to Washington she was just a heckuva lot of wet.

But it was enough rain to keep us on the tarmac for 20 minutes as departures were halted just as we pulled away from the terminal.

It gave me time to dive into Hunter S Thompson's book about the 1992 presidential campaign: "Better than Sex: Confessions of a Political Junkie Trapped Like a Rat in Mr Bill's Neighborhood."

Hunter was talking about his favourite political movies. Being There, All the King's Men, JFK.

But he said that if you want to see a real political movie watch Caligula. "Caligula was serious, and he had no use for journalists," Hunter says.

So as we begin this two-week dash, although you, like Caligula, may have no use for journalists, I want to know, what do you want know about the US elections?

What do you want to know about what the American people are thinking? You've got questions. I'll find the answers.

Read more: [External websites]

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

Send us your comments in response to Kevin's weblog using the form below.


The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:

Are people switched on to tactical voting? Do they know if their state is a marginal, battleground state or one that is safe for either Bush or Kerry? Any evidence of Nader voters moving to Kerry to oust Bush where things are close? Anyone saying "I'll vote for Nader in this safe Bush/Kerry state if you switch from Nader to Kerry in your state where things are close?"
Warren, Brighton, UK

Warren, to answer your question, four years ago there were websites for exactly the sort of vote swapping you speak of. This time, that's not happening that I'm aware of. I am a Democrat in Texas who would be happy to vote for Nader if some Green in Ohio wants to swap, but I think this year, those guys are going vote for Kerry even without a swap.
Ryan, Houston, Texas, USA

I am so unhappy with both the left and right. Bush runs as the war time guy and saviour after 9/11, but he has done nothing to catch the people truly behind the 9/11 deaths, and has misled into thinking that his war in Iraq is a good thing. I feel that Kerry has the ability to think, but is advised to agree with whatever the polls say Americans want to hear.
Vertayne S, Atlanta, GA, USA

Good luck with your weblog project, which certainly gives a new slant as far as news reporting is concerned. I wonder if you will come across people who are genuine diehard waverers - people who can see something to vote for in each of the two main candidates, but dislike both, and won't make up their minds until the day of the election (or even not vote). Politics today seems less about having a unified ideology or position and more about specific issues, phrases and stances.
Rob Oliver, Leiden, Netherlands

Whose choice was it to eat Tex-Mex in Detroit's Greektown? As sensible and considerate as ogling the "Elgin" marbles in London.
John Photiades, Missoula, MT, USA

I think you must mean eight miles a minute. Eight miles a second equates to the speed of the rotation of the earth.
Peter Collins, Cardiff, UK

I find it very interesting how much interest there appears to be in internal US politics. I must admit that the internal politics of the UK and many other countries are something of a mystery to me. However, your interest causes me to think that the power of the United States is really underestimated by its citizens. I feel somewhat weak and feeble to affect the direction of my country at times. I know that it is important to vote but this also adds more meaning to my vote because it will not only affect me but people all over the world. I would like to thank you for the insight.
David Holdaway, Denver, Colorado, USA

Having lived in various areas of the US, it all comes down to traditional, regional opinions and ideas, which gives a pretty solid idea of the need for the Electoral College, which some just don't seem to get. Would you please clear that up?
Sandi, Pryor, USA

Do the people you're meeting in the US tend to think the 'war on terror' is working, or do they share the scepticism that seems to be common in Europe?
Richard Moore, Manchester, UK

Kevin, at least the next time you're in town, get some real Mexican food in the Latin area of the city, or come over to Dearborn for some great Arabic dishes!
Wilson Travis, Dearborn, Michigan, USA

I wonder how many people you run into actually attend those political town hall meetings I keep seeing on TV? There has yet to be one in my neighbourhood, and I for one would like to go.
Dezi Johnson, Gaithersburg, MD, USA

I notice your travels basically are in urban centres, thus you get one point of view. Travel in the rural areas and you will get nothing but disdain for John Kerry and the Democrats. All you have to do is look at the "Red-Blue States" to see where Kerry's support comes from. That is not enough to win this year's election. It seems that Europe will once again, much to their chagrin, be dealing with W for four more years.
Stephen Knoble, Gettysburg, SD, USA

Fahrenheit 9-11 did change my mind about who I am going to vote for. It convinced me that the danger of the anti-American left outweighs the danger of the narrow-minded right. Thanks to Michael Moore, I'm voting for George W. Bush.
Ben Greene, Philadelphia, USA

If third party candidates were not generally closer to Democrats they may stand a chance. As it stands, all they do is split the vote. Usually a popular third party candidate will guarantee the election of the Republican candidate.
Kelly, CO, USA

Hey Kevin! Just read your "blog" and it's always fun to see when Libertarians sneak into the news. Your brief mention is more than the US press will usually mention, although they seem to relish covering the likes of Nader, Buchanan, or Perot, while ignoring those from much better established third parties, such as the Libertarians - my party. We really feel our party represents the feelings of a much great proportion of the population than election results would suggest, and hope as George W Bush leads the Republicans even further away from supposed "small government" principals they continue to show that more and more people will be willing to vote for what they really feel.
Chris Miller, Minneapolis, MN, USA

I believe that Americans that support Bush are brainwashed and scared by the media. I voted for Nader in the last election and wish I could vote for him now. However I will vote for Kerry in a effort to try to rid our country of George W Bush.
Kimberly Ogden, Cannon Beach, Oregon, USA

As an American separated from my homeland by a little bit of water, I am wondering how my countrymen are thinking about the war in Iraq as a campaign issue. Do they think this is a part of the "war on terror"? Especially in the heartland. I know the "city-slickers" largely have a different view. But I want to know if the suburbanites and country folk think President Bush has done enough to protect the country.
Bruce Underhill, Cologne, Germany

Great articles, it's nice to see what the populace think. I was wondering if the people get tired of the mud slinging and name calling and can see through it all to the policies (which we, certainly, hear little about)? Just how much do the parties talk about what they will do, rather than the mistakes the other party would make and have made?
Alan Paterson, Edinburgh, Scotland

Just a bit of trivia, when I was a child in the late sixties, sets of self-adhesive bullet holes, a ragged row of four I think, were strangely popular, either on the boot or windows. Funny how things come around again.
Marc Thomas, Oxford, UK

Do the people you're meeting in the US tend to think the 'war on terror' is working, or do they share the scepticism that seems to be common in Europe?
Richard Moore, Manchester, UK

I was just wondering what factors are influencing the way American people are going to vote? Are international issues really preying on their mind as in the past it has normally come down to internal politics such as the economy?
Ryan Whelan, Aberdeen, Scotland

In response to Ryan Whelan's question: To most ordinary Americans, the working folk you won't see at campaign stops and the like, the world stage is far and away the most pressing issue in our minds. Of what use are a bunch of feel good domestic programs if our people are being car bombed or taken hostage by terrorists? People who don't normally make themselves heard in the media are quietly resolved to elect the man who we feel will keep us safe. Surely all people in the world can identify with that.
CM Putnam, Oklahoma, USA

Is there general apathy towards the politicians?
Glenda, Australia
Hi Kevin! I'm not sure if you have been asked this question before, but I'll just give it a go. When the two candidates go out on the campaign trail, do the local residents actually turn out in large numbers or is there general apathy towards the politicians? While much has been said about the Democrats wanting to go out there and make their vote count so that they can get Bush out, I just wonder whether it will be reflected in a large way by the general population, since voting numbers have been falling in the past few elections.
Glenda, Australia

To Glenda in Australia: When John Kerry was here last month, there was a crowd of 40-50 thousand to see him at the largest park near downtown. They were expecting such a large turnout the campaign had to issue tickets over the internet for days before his arrival. I suspect there will be the largest voter turnout in history here on November 2.
Erik Larson, Portland, Oregon USA

I'd love to hear what people think about third parties. So many people I've talked to can't stand Bush or Kerry, but don't know of any other options.
Anthea Taylor, Fitchburg, MA, USA

Is there real hatred in equal measure for Bush and Kerry? To what extent are people more worried about the terrorist threat to the exclusion of bread and butter issues? Do people really believe that al-Qaeda and Iraq were linked? Has Michael Moore's film Fahrenheit 9-11 changed anybody's mind about who they will vote for?
Paul Walter, Newbury, England

To answer Paul W's question: Yes, there is a real hatred for both Bush and Kerry on a very personal level. I've not seen anything like this level in my 50 years. I don't think Nixon was even hated as much. And yes, there are people who still think that 9/11 and Iraq are linked.
Mark, Portland, OR, USA

I hope you get a vast amount of differences of opinions...it's either left or right, there really is no one who speaks of an independent, green or libertarian party. Seems the major focus is always the same here in the US...we want change, but no one wants to look at anything different but the same old rhetoric...good luck!
Craig, Madison, WI, USA

Name
Your E-mail address
Town & Country
Comments

Disclaimer: The BBC may edit your comments and cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published.





PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific