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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 September, 2004, 04:24 GMT 05:24 UK
Weblog: US election road trip - II

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. Bookmark this page and come back for regular updates.

23 SEPTEMBER :: TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA :: 0415 GMT

Miles: 5773
Cups of coffee: 47

I haven't had a cup of coffee since 5.30 this morning, and I can tell. My eyes are bleary, but the blog calls.

Fortunately, I think that I've drunk so much coffee over the last two weeks that even when I don't have a cup the caffeine is leaching out of my bones.

Welcome to the Sunshine state, Florida, and Tallahassee, the epicentre of the recount battle four years ago.

We've come here to find out if the ballot debacle four years ago will motivate or alienate voters.

Before we dive into that on Thursday, we had a travel day. We were up at five this morning to catch a flight through Atlanta to Jacksonville Florida before driving for three hours across northern part of the state.

We didn't see much evidence of the recent hurricanes.

We did see an emergency services truck that had driven down from Tennessee, a road sign twisted off its metal posts and a few wrecked cars on lorries that looked like trees had fallen on them but little else. The real damage is west of here.

Fortunately, we had a chance to get off the main motorway today and travel for a while on a two-lane state highway.

We listened to gospel bluegrass as we drove past two prisons along Florida Highway 90 in the Osceola National Forest.

Thomas
Thomas had lived in Lake City all his life. His main concern was Iraq

We were in search of a local cafe, not some national chain. We wanted some place that would give us a sense of place.

After miles of searching, we found the De Soto Pharmacy in downtown Lake City. It had an old style soda fountain and lunch counter.

I had a real cherry Coke, and we chased our sandwiches with mountainous slices of chocolate cream pie.

I wanted to see what people in a small town in northern Florida thought of the election.

The first two women I tried to interview didn't want to talk. "Too much friction," one of them said.

But Thomas, a retired schoolteacher who had lived in Lake City all his life, allowed me to pull up a chair. His main concern was Iraq.

"It's getting worse not better, and regardless of our intent, the war is not following the path that Bush wants it to," he said.

De Soto Pharmacy
De Soto Pharmacy: A sense of place

He remembers Vietnam and fears that the US has more insurgents to deal with in Iraq.

But he doesn't like either candidate. "With Kerry, it's not clear that he would do something different," he said.

Richard and I were talking about this and remembering how just a couple of days ago, we had watched John Kerry make a major foreign policy speech in which he sharpened his attack on George Bush and laid out a four-point plan for Iraq.

I read the analysis in the New York Times, Washington Post and other places online.

The Times said that John Kerry "seems to have found his voice" on Iraq.

But if John Kerry found his voice on Iraq, a lot of people still haven't heard it.

We have met a lot of voters who say they are still not clear about where Kerry stands.

Maybe it will take a few days to sink in, maybe people will hear the message during the debates, but in the case of Thomas and others we've spoken to, they are still unclear on where John Kerry stands not only on Iraq but on other issues.

Thomas said that he will vote for John Kerry as a protest vote against George Bush.

But Kerry has to find some way to break through to voters or else he doesn't stand a chance to unseat George Bush.

22 SEPTEMBER :: EN ROUTE TO JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA :: 1825 GMT

Miles: 5116
Cups of coffee (cumulative): 47

Up with the sun and on our way to Florida. Fortunately, the state hasn't been hit with a hurricane in a few days.

So, it's time to catch up with your comments.

Andrew from the Netherlands made the comment that this election doesn't look much like a democratic (small d) exercise, as much as "two massive propaganda machines slogging it out".

It's a political maxim that presidential candidates rally their base during the primary elections and then move to the middle.

This election feels different.

Republican and Democratic operatives that we've spoken to seem to be giving up on undecided voters and rallying the base.

As Mike Lavigne with the Texas Democratic Party told us, "Who doesn't have their mind made up by now?"

This election, the battle being fought is not to persuade those in the middle as much as to motivate the party base to turn out on Election Day.

I think that is why Andrew sees it as a battle to the death.

Angry voters tend to be more reliable voters so it's best to keep the party faithful at a slow boil.

Neil in Fort Worth says he is surprised we didn't meet more "America: Love it or Leave it" conservatives in Texas.

We haven't heard too many people say that critics of America should take a one-way ticket somewhere else.

As a matter of fact, at the most patriotic, flag-waving event we've been to - the dedication of the bridge for a soldier who died in Iraq - the soldier's father said that his son was fighting for a country where people could hold different opinions.

Most folks we've met wish there was more and better debate, not less, and are broadly tolerant of other views.

I do remember vividly hearing one person in a coffee shop in Boulder grumble that she wished that the rest of Colorado, apart from liberal Boulder and Denver, would just go away.

If anything, some of the anti-Bush folks have been less willing to listen to the other side.

I'll try to get to some more of your questions today. There are lots of good ones.

We're just about to land in Jacksonville Florida and drive across the state to Tallahassee.

We're going to find some good local restaurants for good Southern cooking and comments.

As I have been writing this, Richard is cursing the newspaper.

What had set him off? His hometown baseball team, the Chicago Cubs, seems to be out of contention for the playoffs.

21 SEPTEMBER :: NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE :: 2200 GMT

Miles: 5101
Cups of coffee: 46

Richard and I went to the dedication of a bridge today north of Nashville.

The Marine Corporal Patrick Nixon's bridge
The Marine Corporal Patrick Nixon's bridge

The bridge was being renamed in honour of the first Tennessean to die in the war in Iraq, Marine Corporal Patrick Nixon.

A small crowd of veterans, state political figures, Patrick's family and the family of other marines from the area gathered for the ceremony.

A huge American flag flew from the ladder of a fire truck, providing a backdrop for the speakers who remembered the young marine.

Patrick's father, David, said it was fitting to dedicate a bridge to his son's memory.

Patrick Nixon's father, David
David Nixon said his son gave his all for America

"It was at a bridge that he and 22 other Marines gave their final all for this country," he said.

"They unlocked a door that allowed the 1st Marine Division to go up to Baghdad and unseat that monster, Saddam Hussein," he said.

David Nixon waxed poetic and said that his son acted as a bridge in his life, bridging divides between people in his life, and he expanded that comparison to the war in Iraq.

"We're in a situation where we're trying to bridge between our country and another who have different viewpoints," he said.

Martha Morris
Martha said she could trust Bush "with our children"

Martha Morris is head of Tennessee Marine Families and was at the bridge dedication. Her son Drew is serving in Iraq.

Drew signed up for the marines after 9/11 because he said: "It isn't right for someone else to fight to defend me."

She called 9/11 "the biggest wake-up call we've ever had".

Richard asked her if she thought the war in Iraq made America safer.

"Yes, we can show the world our strength and not let those people take over the world," she said.

And she stood by George Bush as commander-in-chief.

"We are very proud to have him commanding our children. We can trust him with our children," she said.

She is solidly Republican. "Republicans tell the truth and understand the world better. They have a commitment to protect the United States."

She went out of her way to thank the British people and Prime Minister Tony Blair.

"We have a great passion to protect them," she said, adding: "They're family."

"We're the wild child of the family, but we're still family."

21 SEPTEMBER :: NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE :: 1803 GMT

Miles: 5093
Cups of coffee (cumulative): 45

Richard and I woke up this morning to hear CNN's Jeff Greenfield declare the "triumph of the blogosphere".

The MSM (Main Stream Media) is taking a beating here this morning in the wake of CBS news anchor Dan Rather's apology for airing a story that questioned President Bush's Vietnam War-era military record.

Right-of-centre blogs had questioned the authenticity of the documents that CBS used for the story and were out ahead of the MSM on this one.

Republican bumper sticker
The MSM has heaped scorn on blogs.

In an interview defending the story, CBS News executive Jonathan Klein said: "You couldn't have a starker contrast between the multiple layers of checks and balances and a guy sitting in his living room in his pyjamas writing."

Ouch. I'll have you know that I'm in business casual attire writing this in my hotel room, not in pyjamas.

I doubt the MSM versus blog-dissing match will subside any time soon.

And if the MSM wasn't taking enough of a beating, conservative talk radio was abuzz with the story.

Several callers to the Glenn Beck programme called for CBS to fire Dan Rather, but they thought that was unlikely so they are calling for people to change the channel and hit CBS where it hurts, in ratings.

Conservative talk-radio listeners use "liberal" as a political epithet.

For example, one caller described his co-worker as a "Clintonista, Kerry Kool-Aid drinking liberal".

On our way back from some morning interviews, Richard and I had a real slice of America with a breakfast at the Waffle House.

This was the real deal. In addition to grits (corn porridge) on the menu, they had an honest to goodness jukebox with vinyl 45s.

With some loose change in the car, I couldn't resist, especially seeing as the jukebox had Johnny Cash's I Walk the Line.

After some waffles, grits and, of course, coffee, we're ready for the day. Oh, and we're starting to see some more Republican bumper stickers here.

It looks like the Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is putting his stamp on the party. We saw a bumper sticker that said "Don't be a girly-man. Vote Republican."

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20 SEPTEMBER :: NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE :: 2154 GMT

Miles: 5031
Cups of coffee (cumulative): 42

Well, we have spoken to a lot of Republicans, and very few have said much about John Kerry, pro or con.

Rowland Huddleston
Rowland says his vote for Kerry "will be a protest vote"

John Kerry is no Bill Clinton, in that the senator from Massachusetts doesn't elicit Republican rage like old Slick Willie did.

I'm sure there are people out there who are hopping mad about Kerry, but most of the Republicans we've spoken with have just said George Bush is our man.

He cut taxes and smoked the terrorists out of their caves, 'nuff said.

So for those of you who want more red meat comments against Kerry, we just haven't heard them.

If you want to contribute some, by all means, send a few to the blog. We'll put them up.

Richard and I love when sources surprise us, say something that we weren't expecting.

So, much to our surprise, the most critical comments we've heard about Kerry came from a man who is going to vote for him on 2 November.

We interviewed Rowland Huddleston, who served in the Navy from 1958 to 1962.

We wanted to find out how the candidates' Vietnam era military record played into his decision. With his "Veteran for Kerry" button, it was pretty clear where he stood.

"I'm very disappointed with Kerry, by the way," he told us.

When asked most recently, John Kerry said that knowing what he knows now, he would have voted for the war, Rowland said.

He was trying to avoid sounding like he was "flip-flopping", Rowland said.

President Bush often says that John Kerry has been in the US Senate long enough to take both sides on most issues. It's been more than a good laugh line.

Rowland said that Kerry should have said: "Knowing what I know now, I most certainly wouldn't have voted for [the war]. We were lied to."

"The guy (Kerry) has missed every chance," he said.

It raises doubts for Rowland about candidate Kerry. "The question is that if he's that bad at it, maybe he wouldn't make a good president," he said.

But he'll vote for John Kerry because he said "we're back to better than Bush".

And he grumbled: "The US doesn't have a third party that's worth a hoot."

He loves Ralph Nader, but he won't vote for him because it would take votes away from the Democrats and possibly lead to George Bush's re-election.

He said his vote for Kerry "will be a protest vote".

20 SEPTEMBER :: NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE :: 2121 GMT

Miles: 5031
Cups of coffee (cumulative): 41

Jennifer Jones works with Operation Stand Down, a programme in Nashville that aids homeless veterans. She just started working with the programme in February.

Jennifer Jones
Jennifer says Iraqi vets "just don't know what to do anymore"

Just as veterans coming home from Vietnam slipped through the cracks and ended up on the streets, she said the programme is already starting to see vets from the war in Iraq.

Many of them come from a lower-class background and don't have solid life skills.

And they are having trouble making the transition from the regimented life of the military to civilian life.

"They get absolutely no training coming out. You served Uncle Sam, bam, you're out," she said.

And she's seeing many of the same mental problems in Iraq vets as they did with the vets from Vietnam, including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

She was just counselling a 24-year-old vet this morning.

The vet told her of a call they took from the other side of Baghdad during the war. Some troops were pinned down and needed help.

The soldier got there to find one of his friends hanging from a tank, and "most of him is gone".

Jennifer said: "They come from this and now they can't deal with having to come back to society and be a regular Joe."

She said the 24-year-old she saw today was really scared and confused.

"I was told that I would be getting out and making money. I'm a soldier. I'm not supposed to be here. I'm not supposed to be homeless," he said.

"I'm not supposed to be like the Vietnam soldier who is crazy."

He is suffering from crushing depression. He's having nightmares, flashbacks, reliving the war.

"Every time there was a loud noise here, he was jumping out of his chair," Jennifer said. He's suffering from all the classic signs of PTSD.

So far the number of Iraq vets they are seeing is a small amount, only a couple out of the 600 vets they see a month.

Veterans are 25% more likely to be homeless, to have an addiction or to be homeless, and those percentages are much higher for vets who see combat, Jennifer said.

They can get some services through the Veterans' Administration, but veterans returning home from Iraq have not been told about programmes to help them make the transition.

"They are supposed to come back here and go to work and pull an 8-to-5 job. They can't do that. They just don't know what to do any more," she said.

20 SEPTEMBER :: NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE :: 1617 GMT

Miles: 5023
Cups of coffee (cumulative): 40

Well, before dashing out for our first full day of reporting here in Nashville, I'm going to take some time out to respond to your comments.

Paul in Atlanta said that all of the comments so far in the blog have been negative about Bush and the Republicans.

Most of the comments, negative and positive, that we're hearing are about President Bush. And that's a problem for John Kerry, not the president.

As I think I've said before, most pundits will tell you that this election is a referendum on George W Bush.

I think that John Rakolta, one of the president's supporters who we interviewed in Detroit, said it best when he said that the opposition hasn't said anything that would cause him to switch from voting for George W Bush.

We haven't been hearing the kind of passion for or against John Kerry that we've heard against George Bush, but as I've taken pains to point out, we're also not hearing enthusiasm for John Kerry.

Ted Terrazas, a small business owner in San Antonio, did say that he didn't have confidence in John Kerry's response to another attack on the US.

Julie, a Republican small business owner outside Detroit, was quite upset with Senator Kerry for voting against an $87bn package of funding for ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

That was about the extent of the passion against John Kerry that we've heard.

And we do hear comments such as those from Pat Oles, which I have already mentioned, that people like President Bush for his "strong, consistent leadership in a complicated and dangerous world."

We're going to be talking to people today about the Vietnam-era records of the two candidates and whether they care.

That seems to be generating a fair bit of passion at least in terms of news coverage.

But the Republicans and Democrats who we've talked to are sick of the whole Vietnam thing. They want to talk about issues now and get off of what happened 30 years ago.

Look for Richard's piece on that in the next few days.

But, we've been meeting a good mix of Republicans, Democrats and independents since leaving Austin and Boulder. Keep those comments and questions coming.

20 SEPTEMBER :: NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE :: 0738 GMT

Miles: 5007
Cups of coffee (cumulative): 39

It was a travel day for Richard and me, and we've landed in Nashville.

But, we're just settling in here and are still taking in our experience in San Antonio.

Manuel and Anita Vazquez
Manuel and Anita have been married for over 50 years
We were almost adopted by the Vasquez family there, and we left with large care packages of Mexican pastries. Little chance of us wasting away on this trip!

We interviewed them to get a sense of the Hispanic experience in America and also what issues are important to Hispanic voters.

It was a great American story. Manuel Vasquez, the patriarch of the family, told us of serenading his Anita with his guitar after he returned from the war.

They will celebrate their 52nd wedding anniversary in October, and his daughters say he still picks up his guitar every day.

The daughters are all bilingual, and they grew up grounded in two cultures: Mexican and American.

With their father, they would listen to traditional Mexican music. They still know all the words. But when they went to their bedrooms, they listened to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

Manuel worked hard to put his four daughters, Maria Guadalupe, Teresa, Carmen and Anna through university, and now they are all professionals.

And Teresa's husband Mauricio is the classic American immigrant story, with a few twists and turns.

Born in El Salvador, he emigrated to Canada before moving to the US. He speaks Spanish, English and French. He has opened the family's first business, El Sol Bakery.

They are a tight-knit family, and family plays a big role in their lives. But to remain close they have learned to avoid discussing politics.

The family leans Democratic.

"I am for Kerry. I'm telling you right now. George Bush, no, will not work for me," Maria said.

Vazquez family
A tight-knit family
Anna leans independent and is undecided on who to vote for in the upcoming election.

And Carmen is a dyed-in-the-wool Republican.

"At Christmas, we don't bring up politics. It ends in screaming matches," Teresa said.

"When we have our family gatherings, we just don't discuss politics," she added.

Just another indication of the passionate political divisions here, but with their warmth and hospitality, I can't imagine the Vasquez family staying angry with one another for long even after their political shouting matches.

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19 SEPTEMBER :: HOUSTON, TEXAS :: 1526 GMT

Miles: 4330
Cups of coffee (cumulative): 36

So much to blog. So little time.

We've left San Antonio and are on our way to Nashville. We're waiting for a connecting flight in Houston. Dashing through.

People have asked what the impact of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 has had on voters, and yesterday, a number of people we spoke to brought up the film.

After a lovely dinner on the Riverwalk last night in San Antonio, Michele Haggard, a manager with the restaurant, struck up a conversation with Richard and me after asking about how our dinner was.

The San Antonio native had lived in New York for 10 years and Washington DC for three years before returning home last October.

She had studied documentary film, and she asked us what we thought of Fahrenheit 9/11.

Richard hasn't seen it. I saw it in July and said that I thought it was better than Bowling for Columbine, Moore's previous film.

She said: "It wasn't how we were taught to do documentaries."

She came away from the film disappointed. She felt it was more propaganda than a documentary.

She did think that parts of the film were effective, such as the part where Michael Moore interviewed the mother whose son had been killed in Iraq.

But she thought the movie would have been even more effective had it been a more balanced, objective telling of the facts instead of the political broadside.

"Sorry, Democrats," she said.

It was a sentiment echoed earlier in the day when we met three generations of the Vazquez family.

Anna Vazquez said: "I think it is a totally slanted, one-sided view, and I would not pay to see the movie.

"That movie should not be touted as a documentary. It was one person's perspective of someone he totally hates."

The topic of the film touched off a brief, heated debate.

Her sister Maria said: "I saw it on the day it came out. I loved it."

Maria said that Michael Moore makes no bones about the fact that the movie is his point of view on George W Bush.

She said of her sister's view of the film: "Everyone is entitled to their opinion."

"But that's the beauty of this country, that even in a family, you can agree to disagree," she said.

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19 SEPTEMBER :: SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS :: 0036 GMT

Miles: 3743
Cups of coffee (cumulative): 33

For most of the trip, we've been on the lookout for political bumper stickers with good political slogans and trying to get a totally, completely unscientific gauge of support for the candidates.

Well, if the bumper stickers were to be believed, John Kerry is a shoo-in, and George W Bush better seek political asylum in some distant, comfortable country because the US is about to rise in violent revolt, storm the White House and re-open Alcatraz just to house him.

Of course, this isn't even remotely close to the truth.

George W Bush is ahead in most polls, and conventional wisdom (take it or leave it) is that the upcoming debates are do-or-die for John Kerry.

Most bumper stickers we saw were anti-Bush. We did see one funny anti-John Kerry/John Edwards bumper sticker in Denver: "Flush the Johns"

Voters use bumper stickers to express their political views

But we didn't get a good picture of it. We were on Interstate 25 and were having enough trouble navigating traffic without causing an accident trying to get close enough to the truck to get a snap.

However, this gives me a chance to tell one of my favourite stories of this political season and to give you a sense of the weird world that is Washington, DC.

As most single people - both men and women - will tell you, dating in Washington is a full contact sport, bringing a whole new meaning to the term weekend warrior.

(Weekend warrior: Someone who plays sport on the weekend but otherwise is totally lacking in physical fitness).

Sometimes the battle of the sexes is so heated that broken hearts are the least of your worries, no, broken bones seem a distinct possibility.

Add to this partisan political passions, and you've got a poisonous mix.

I know people who have done online dating, speed dating, personal ads. You name it.

But add to this, bumper sticker dating. One of my soccer team mates drives an anti-Bush rant on four wheels.

A brief sample: "GW Bush: Born with a silver spoon up his nose" or "Against Abortion? Have a vasectomy."

He's quite proud of his politics and his bumper stickers.

But to his surprise, he came home one day to find a business card stuck under the wipers on his windscreen.

"I love your bumper stickers! Have no idea who you are, but I think we'd get along! I'm @ (phone number). We should hang out."

But I guess it worked. He's called her.

That's all I'll say. There is enough dating pressure in Washington. This blog won't add to it!

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18 SEPTEMBER :: SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS :: 2033 GMT

Miles: 3734
Cups of coffee (cumulative): 31

Just a few travel notes. My favourite place for Wi-Fi over breakfast is now officially Cafe on the Square in San Marcos, Texas, where we stopped en route from Austin to San Antonio.

The cafe is in a building built in 1897. Fin de siecle southwestern architecture with wireless internet and migas (eggs with peppers and tortillas) to boot, what more could you ask for?

Now that we're in San Antonio, Richard and I are really enjoying the beat blender Mexican and America culture.

Kevin Anderson at breakfast
Blogging at breakfast: Wi-Fi with your migas?
This is the first place where I've heard a Tejano radio station with English-speaking DJs.

The easiest way to think of Tejano music is to mix Mexican mariachi with German oomph music, lots of tuba and accordion straight out of a Bavarian beer garden band.

We went down to the Alamo last night to talk to people about the war in Iraq, to see if it would influence their decision for president.

The first people we talked to were Roger and Sandra Harrigan, vacationing in Texas from Wisconsin.

"I will totally vote for John Kerry because I thought the war in Iraq was horrible. We've been duped again," Roger said.

Richard and I have heard this before from Democrats, but Roger was no life-long Democrat.

In 37 years of knowing him, Sandra said her husband had never voted Democratic, even though she said she had worked hard to convert him.

Roger voted for President Bush in the last election, and Sandra was quick to tell us that she reminds him of his vote "at least once a week".

But it wasn't just the war in Iraq that was going to lead Roger to vote for John Kerry this year. He was also troubled by the mushrooming budget deficit.

Roger Harrigan
Roger Harrigan will vote for Kerry, after feeling "duped"
"Republicans usually watch the deficit, and Democrats usually spend the money," Roger said.

But now, now with the mounting budget deficit, he asked: "Where is the money going to come from to fund the war?"

He fears that if President Bush is re-elected that he will invade Iran and plunge the whole of the Middle East into war.

All that said, he said that he wasn't voting for John Kerry because he was enamoured with him as a candidate, but "I just won't vote for Bush, no matter what, period."

But we also just talked to a Hispanic voter who usually votes Democratic but was going to vote for President Bush because of his handling of the war on terror.

And Richard and I were just reading in the newspaper this morning that despite concerns over Iraq, President Bush had opened up a lead over John Kerry.

The Kerry campaign needs a few more Roger Harrigans.

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18 SEPTEMBER :: SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS :: 1532 GMT

Miles: 3734
Cups of coffee (cumulative): 31

Welcome to San Antonio Texas, home of the famous Riverwalk.

Sean from Providence Rhode Island chided me and the BBC in general for not reporting on the George Bush National Guard service/documents controversy.

For those of you not following it, the US network CBS produced documents from Mr Bush's former commander saying he was pressured to give the man who would become president a positive evaluation.

But the authenticity of the documents has been questioned. Look in the links below for our full story.

San Antonio businessman Ted Terrazas
Ted Terrazas wants his news "straight"
Well, Sean, Richard and I had a lot of gear to carry and had to leave our documents expert behind. I have no way of verifying whether those documents are real or not.

And the people we have been talking to hadn't mentioned it until today.

Richard and I sat down with a group of Hispanic business owners here in San Antonio. Four were self-identified Republicans and one said she was an independent.

In our wide-ranging discussion, they repeatedly brought up how little they trust the media.

"Just look at CBS and what just recently occurred," said businessman Ted Terrazas, referring to questions over the authenticity of the documents.

They want the news straight, without bias.

Ted says he reads, watches and listens to a wide range of media including the BBC, Public Radio International and the Mexican media.

"You get a straighter shot when you listen to the Mexican news," he said.

Olga Bernal Owens said that she can't stand when the media "turns the story in a different direction when it's not going into what they perceive to be the opinion. That's when I change the channel."

Mistrust of the media is one of the few issues that both Republicans and Democrats agree on.

But that's where the agreement ends.

Democrats say the media didn't do their job in the lead up to the war in Iraq and didn't investigate President Bush's claims that Iraq had WMD.

Republicans accuse the media of purposefully sensationalising the war in Iraq and focusing on the negative.

"What you see on the front page of most newspapers today is a Hispanic family grieving over their son with a coffin and a flag. That sends a terrible message to Hispanics," Olga said.

Joe Solis - a Republican activist who hosts a monthly Meetup for San Antonio conservatives - said that this was a strategy of the media to discredit the president.

"It's being done on purpose to reinforce the belief that President George Bush does not like Hispanics, and that is why he is sending your children out to fight this war because he's the big bad cowboy," he said.

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17 SEPTEMBER :: SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS :: 2252 GMT

Miles: 3730
Cups of coffee (cumulative): 30

Pat Oles first met a member of the Bush family in 1975, when he was a fraternity brother with George W Bush's brother Marvin.

And he continues to have a close relationship with the Bush family, working on Republican campaigns from Ronald Reagan's 1980 run for the White House to George W Bush's 2004 campaign.

Pat is the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign co-chair for central Texas.

More than that, George W Bush went to Pat's church, even served him communion once. "These are real people, who are true friends," he said.

A lot of you have written and asked about 9/11, the war on terrorism and Iraq, and for Pat, as with a lot of Americans of all political stripes, the attacks three years ago were a pivotal event.

"9/11 reshuffled the deck," is how Pat puts it. "Until September 11, we were incredibly isolated from (terrorism). Now, we're in the middle of it," he said.

"It completely changed the agenda. (President Bush) says this constantly that his number one job is commander-in-chief, to protect this country," he said.

I asked him whether he thought there was a connection between 9/11 and Iraq.

He wouldn't say. But, "I personally believe that the world is a better off today without Saddam Hussein."

"I have no idea whether there was a direct connection," he said, but he also thought that is not what should have driven the decision.

"What we do know that the guy was very involved in harbouring terrorists: Abu Nidal. He clearly gassed his own people. He clearly had weapons of mass destruction," he said.

"A lot of us believe they are still over there. God forbid, he's moved them out to some terrorist group somewhere else," he said.

And now, "we're committed to it. We're in, and we're in it for the long haul," he said.

And he believes that it is George W Bush's resoluteness that appeals to voters.

"Strong consistent leadership in a complicated and dangerous world. He's on a mission. You know exactly what you're going to get," he said.

Well, we've landed in San Antonio. Richard wants to go talk to people about the media and Iraq, so we're off to the Alamo, site of another attack on Americans.

Well, to be historically accurate, Texas wasn't part of the US at the time. It was its own country, or at least trying to be.

Check out the first link below for all the history from people who remember the Alamo a lot better than I do.

Read more: [External websites]

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

17 SEPTEMBER :: AUSTIN, TEXAS :: 1450 GMT

Miles: 3651
Cups of coffee (cumulative): 30

Time to respond to some comments. As Glenn rightly points out, we haven't had a huge number of conservatives in the blog in the last few days.

That will change. We spoke to Republican Party leaders on Thursday, and I'm writing about that in a few hours.

Austin, Texas
Austin: Liberal capital in the middle of Bush country
But, some of that has to do with where we've been since Monday: Boulder, Colorado and Austin, Texas. You just don't get much more liberal than that.

Even people who live here in Austin know that. Richard was out just a couple of nights ago for dinner and struck up a conversation with the waiter.

He explained that we were travelling across the US talking to average Americans about the election and that we were in Austin to talk to people about the Bush factor - the appeal of George W Bush to voters.

He didn't think that we would have much luck finding Bush supporters here. "Ninety-five percent of anti-Bush Texans live in Austin," he said.

But a nearby police officer leaned over and said: "Yeah, and we're trying to weed them out."

Richard took the comment from the officer to mean that they were trying to weed out this pocket of Bush bashers that lived in Austin.

Yes, Austin is pretty solidly Democratic, but as for Texas, the state has shifted Republican in the past 30 years.

As Mike Lavigne, the chief of staff for the Texas Democratic Party, told us, Democrats haven't gained a seat in the state legislature since 1972.

The party hasn't picked up a seat to challenge the Republican lock on power in Texas in more than 30 years.

But, our trip now turns towards the right - politically that is - so look for more conservative voices.

But sorry Glenn, I'm going to keep going to coffee shops.

No, I'm probably not going to find them brimming with conservatives, but I need the coffee and the wireless internet access, otherwise, the blog grinds to a halt.

Read more: [External websites]

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

17 SEPTEMBER :: AUSTIN, TEXAS :: 0800 GMT

Miles: 3651
Cups of coffee (cumulative): 29

I first spoke to Karl-Thomas Musselman in the lead-up to the Democratic Convention in Boston.

He was Texas' youngest delegate to the convention, and he had his own blog and also writes for the Burnt Orange Report, a Democratic blog about Texas politics.

"The creativity of grass roots blogs fills in where most journalists fear to tread," he said.

He's a government student at the University of Texas at Austin, so being in town, I thought I'd give him a call.

We met at Scholz Garden, a local watering hole where Deaniacs - supporters of insurgent candidate Howard Dean - like Karl-Thomas gathered for the Meetups, the use of which was of the Dean campaign's online innovations.

Meetup.com is a site where people with similar interests can find each other online and set places to meet up offline. The interest doesn't have to be politics.

A quick search of the Austin area shows that there are Meetups about dog agility, the right to bear arms, cat rescue and witches, just to name a few.

As a volunteer for the Dean campaign, Karl-Thomas travelled to Iowa, to New Hampshire and to Arizona. He was there in Iowa for the famous "Dean Scream" speech.

Because the Deaniacs had such an attachment to people in the campaign and the candidate himself, Karl-Thomas said it was hard to let go.

After Dean's last stand in Wisconsin, Karl-Thomas said: "It was almost like losing a loved one. You had to go through a process of grieving."

At first he felt demoralised, but Howard Dean transformed his presidential campaign into a broader campaign to elect fiscally responsible and socially progressive candidates.

Karl-Thomas Musselman
Karl-Thomas had been a committed Deaniac

Dean for America became Democracy for America, and Karl-Thomas has been working to elect Democratic candidates to local and state office in Austin.

Part of those efforts has been voter registration drives, and he said that at the university, they have registered 1,720 voters as of last week.

Generally, he thinks that voter turnout will be higher for this election than in the presidential election in 2000.

He predicts turnout will be up, at levels not seen since 1992, about 55%.

"I get this sense, this feeling that this is one of those elections that is going to draw out those people who rarely ever vote, people who vote once every 20 years," he said.

As an example, he said that his uncle hasn't voted since 1976, since the Jimmy Carter-Gerald Ford race.

Karl-Thomas' uncle believes "that all politicians are crooks and sleazes", but his uncle recently registered to vote.

He said that that there are lot of people who will turn out for this election to vote for "anybody but Bush".

They may not necessarily be voting for John Kerry, but if there is anything they do this election, they will cast a vote, in essence, against George Bush, he said.

Read more: [External websites]

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

17 SEPTEMBER :: AUSTIN, TEXAS :: 0100 GMT

Miles: 3624
Cups of coffee (cumulative) : 27.6 (down to the dregs with this cup)

As Mike Lavigne sat down to talk to Richard and me about George Bush, the Texas Democratic Party chief of staff crossed off Wednesday on the calendar, only 46 more days until the election.

Both parties are counting down the days and pushing hard in their GOTV campaigns.

Mike Lavigne
Mike Lavigne counts down the days to GOTV
What's GOTV? GET OUT THE VOTE. Gotta get with the campaign trail lingo.

In the closely fought presidential race, party strategists for both the Republicans and Democrats aren't putting much effort into targeting the small number of undecided voters.

"Who doesn't have their mind made up by now?" Mike asked, and added that Bush campaign is focusing on making "sure that the right-wing base of his gets out there and votes,"

"It's such a minute group of people who don't have their mind made up that Bush is just doing a pure GOTV effort," he said.

To best target their GOTV campaigns, both parties are using massive, expensive databases to target their direct mail and fundraising efforts.

The Democrats have "Demzilla", and the Republicans have the "Voter Vault". With these databases, size matters.

Demzilla has massive amounts of information on 158m Americans, and the Republicans' Voter Vault reportedly has psychographic info on 165m voters.

That's at the national level, but Mike says that Texas Democratic Party just bought "this amazing voter file."

"It was expensive, but I can tell you how much money you make, whether you have a cat or a dog, whether you own an RV (recreational vehicle - those massive American camper buses), what your business is, phone number, e-mail, all that stuff," he said.

How do the parties use all this information? "We use it to know where to spend our time and effort. We don't use it for anything conniving," he said.

It allows them to know where to focus their grass roots efforts, he said.

And all of this demographic data on voters is also using in redistricting.

Wow, I wonder if Demzilla knows my cats' names. I wonder if Fig and Newton think their right to privacy has been violated.

Read more: [External websites]

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

16 SEPTEMBER :: AUSTIN, TEXAS :: 1700 GMT

Miles: 3612
Cups of coffee (cumulative): 27

Notes from a day of planes, trains and automobiles. The day started out deceptively easily.

I had feared traffic snarls on the way to Denver airport, but it was a quick straight shot without a single hassle.

We were actually ahead of schedule, which was fortunate. The traffic snarl would come at airport security.

Austin traffic
Traffic nightmares: The real problems began in Austin
I guess that was why I was a little less patient than usual, and when the Transportation Security Administration folks "recommended" that I take my shoes off, I shot back: "Recommend or request?"

That was enough insubordination to be singled out for special treatment even though I walked through the metal detectors without a hitch.

After I was wanded and patted down, all of my bags were searched. So much for the careful packing in the morning!

The real hassles began when we touched down in Austin.

During the 20-minute process to hire our car, the customer service agent mentioned that there was a lot of construction in Austin.

I made a note of it but didn't remember the city all that hard to get around.

The first snafu was my fault. I had Mapquest-ed 7800 South Interstate 35 instead of 7800 North Interstate 35.

Unfortunately, we only figured this out after getting stuck in construction traffic and taking the first of many wrong turns.

No hotel at 7800 South Interstate 35, so we turned around and headed north only to hit rush-hour traffic through the centre of the city.

I wasn't aware that Austin was big enough to have such traffic nightmares.

But the city has almost a million people, and a friend who lives here says the roads are really poorly designed.

There are numerous choke points where merging traffic has to cross two lanes to reach this exit or that exit. It's a nightmare.

If the roads were this poorly designed in Washington DC, where I live, road rage would quickly become the leading cause of death.

Poor Richard got horribly turned around driving last night. Richard had gone out, and it only took him 15 minutes to find his way back to the hotel.

But within sight of the hotel, he took a wrong turn and didn't finally work his way back to the hotel for another hour.

Oh well, we made it downtown today without too much grief, and the city is growing on us. We're just going to keep driving to a minimum!

I'm just sitting down to coffee. More blogging to come today from Austin, the self-proclaimed "World Capital of Live Music."

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


Can you really call this democracy? It seems as though it is just two massive propaganda machines slogging it out? Why does anyone believe anything they say anymore?
Andrew, The Netherlands

Dear Kevin, Are you seeing the signs of a true division in this country? I have never seen the country so polarised. It also seems that the anti-Bush movement is angry, very angry (I am one of the anti-Bushies) and there may be riots in the country if Bush wins. Do you see any signs of this?
Debbie Riga, New York

I really don't understand what it is Americans feel so threatened by. We had 30 years of terrorism in England and we managed to survive it without too much damage to our economy and relatively little loss of life. Why have the British media and British politicians gone so quiet on our experience of terrorism? The spiralling deficit and stagnant job market are a far greater threat to Americans than terrorism but they seem to be resolutely looking the other way.
David Ballantyne, Raleigh, North Carolina (ex-UK)

I want to know what factors voters in the Midwest and South use to decide whom to vote for. Is it the economy, the war in Iraq, environment, party affiliation? What impact does the local press have in those places? It seems that, except for a few, the majority of people in these places do not know what are the real issues and just vote blindly without reading the facts because there is just no news available. I am worried about how these places will vote in the coming election.
Rosario Miguel, New York City

You always seem to find someone that is a Kerry supporter. Maybe you are not aware of it or are in complete denial, but President Bush is leading Kerry in the polls. If you opened your eyes you might notice that even in the "left" coast (California) the majority of the cars have Bush Cheney stickers.
Trevor Jones, Hermosa Beach CA, USA

Both candidates are simply manifestations of the powers that put them there in the first place. If GW, the neo-con, cannot do it, another will take his place the next election. If Kerry, the "alternative" cannot win, another ridiculous figure will be summoned to carry the faltering Democratic torch. Both are not worth the hoopla surrounding the election. This vote is merely a referendum and no "real" democratic choice is present.
Pedro Martinez, Miami, USA.

I'd like to compliment your readers' informed interest in and insightful questions about this country's political process. I doubt the average American gives two figs about elections in other countries. Irv
Irvin West, Little Rock, AR, USA

I am curious about Christians who vote Republican. How do they reconcile Christian teachings of the downtrodden (Jesus lived with and helped the poor including a prostitute) and policies of the Bush administration that helps "the rich get richer and the poorer get poorer". Tax cuts, school vouchers, sending kids to die on false premise (WMDs that morphed into weapons of mass destruction-program-related activities). Christians should not be exploited but the onus is on them to read between the lines. Being a follower and believer is good but being a blind follower is lazy.
Lorna, Seattle, WA, USA

Since political geography is a hobby of mine, here's some additional information about Colorado - Colorado Springs, the state's second largest metropolitan area, is considered a conservative stronghold. Boulder, home of the University of Colorado, has long had the moniker "The Peoples' Republic of Boulder". Denver, by far the largest metro in the state and 30 miles from Boulder, is kind of split between a quite liberal (US definition) central city and solidly conservative suburbs. The Denver area tends to have a large pool of intellectually inclined people, though far from leftist on the whole. I predict Colorado, historically quite Republican, will be up for grabs this time around; especially since the state went for Clinton in 1992.
P.B, Dallas, TX, USA

As a British ex-pat, I have had a number of cultural shocks here in Texas and I am really surprised that when you were here you didn't talk to more conservative folks. Their views are so entrenched that it is amazing. At an air show last weekend, a poem was read out to patriotic music, and everyone stopped to listen. The poem went roughly as follows: "It is the soldier that makes us free, It is the soldier that fights for us, It is the soldier that creates the freedom so people can protest, it is the protestor that is the coward and the traitor, it is the protestor that kills our troops who valiantly fought for our freedom" and so forth in a similar vein whilst people bowed their heads, removed their hats, cried. So I'm very surprised you didn't meet any of the folks who have these views! But your weblog is still excellent reporting and very interesting indeed. Keep it up.
Neil, Fort Worth, Texas

I see the BBC doing their nonsense again, going about it to find the saddest cases they can find, so that they would then show them to the rest of world in order to make fun of us. Such an old trick from the holier-than-thou types.
Jaime, New York, NY

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

Kevin, Of the people you speak with, please ask the question "What books have your read regarding the current political climate?". I am curious as to whether most people's opinion are guided by the television media rather than books in print. As you know, there are several books in print that reveal much about the current people in power. I'm curious as to how many have read anything on this subject.
John Lynch, New Milford, CT, USA

Good blogging. I like the insights on sights and sounds of the local areas you covered. What about the ordinary people, in the markets, barbershop, bakeries. mums dropping their kids in school? By the way, the copious amount of coffee you are drinking- I have added them up and think you should try to be healthier. Really.
Edith Bangayan, Vancouver BC Canada

Following your road trip with interest. I see it brings you through Benton, just outside of Little Rock. If this is one of your stopovers, I'll buy your lunch.
Tina, Benton, AR, USA

I envy your travel-and-tell venture. Welcome to the US! Good luck and have fun. My questions are the following: California, like New York, has always been different than the Midwest and the South - in history, on social issues and politics. It is also very diverse and becoming more so by the minute. What do people in the Midwest and the South think about California's role in national politics? They criticise us all the time but their kids come for a visit and never leave the state.
Meera Srinivasan, Bay Area, California

As a UK expat in New York experiencing my first election over here, I'm amazed by how 'whooping and a hollering' Bush's supporters sound (I don't have a TV and rely on the excellent Public Radio network for my news), particularly in response to key phrases in speeches such as 'the war on terror'. This is in marked contrast to the more subdued reactions heard at Kerry's speeches. Do you notice similar differences in attitude when talking to supporters of each of the main candidates?
Andy, New York, USA

Has anyone in the country noticed that since the RNC made terrorism the focal point of their convention that the US news media has been totally focused on terrorism, the threat of terrorism, safety measures for ordinary citizens to either prevent terrorism or deal with its aftermath and more terrorism. It has become glaringly obvious to many people that the media is now controlled by the Bush Administration (i.e. Fox News and its affiliates are owned by Mr. Rupert Murdoch a staunch Republican who donates much to the party, NBC owned by General Electric who apparently has received mega contracts in Iraq, etc.). I guess the administration believes that it can scare the American public into voting for them. To be honest I'm more afraid of this administration and the damage they will inflict on the masses should they be re-elected. Say hello to the draft and goodbye to Roe vs Wade.
Lisa, Columbus, OH

Flying across the USA is without a doubt the most stupid way to learn anything about the country. You should be in a car, or on a Greyhound bus. Then you would really be meeting real American people.
Don Jenkins, Tarzana CA USA

I have to respond to your statement that it's amazing the African-American anger hasn't subsided in the last four years. Are you kidding?! The widespread level of passion and hatred towards Bush and his administration is something I've never experienced before (I'm 27) and, as far as I'm concerned, rightly so. Despite the fears of terrorist attacks, of a hyped-up police force and of impaired civil liberties, nearly half a million people protested the Republican convention - nothing of this magnitude has ever happened before during a convention, not even at the Chicago riots during the Vietnam War. Bush is only the second president in the history of our country to refuse an invitation to speak to the NAACP. He certainly has done nothing to amend for the criminal disenfranchisement of African-Americans in Florida and, consequently, of all American citizens.
Frances Chewning, New York, NY USA

In your article on religion and politics, thanks for showing that not all American Christians are conservatives. There are a lot of us opposed to Bush policies because of our faith convictions.
Dan, Chicago, USA

Hi Kevin, if you are looking for a US opinion to judge other US opinions against, I am certainly up for a road trip and I like coffee and donuts... what more could you ask! Look forward to your entries!
John Saxton, Clarksburg, NJ USA

You do display a bit of prejudice. It is more than a little strange that you meet only Democrats (and one or two others).
Elsie Cady, Wellsboro, PA, USA

Hi Kevin, could you please find out how much do Americans really know about the parties they are going to vote for? Are they fully understanding what is going on around the world right now? How many people are heavily "influenced" (I'd love to use the word brainwashed) by RNC and DNC and all the ads/ propagandas and all the twisted truth from politicians and news media? How different are the mentalities of those who live in the cities and the ones in suburbs?
Karen, California, USA

Well I see all your posts so far talk about negative comments about Bush and the Republicans. You know, there's some negative things being said about Kerry too. While there are certainly those cynical about the whole process and the candidates, there are also those passionately positive about either Bush or Kerry.
Paul, Atlanta, USA

Thank you for the blog. Not coming from a small town, it's nice to see what middle America is saying about the upcoming election.
J, Orange County, CA, USA

Kevin, how is it that you are able to travel across the country and find scores of liberals to write about and virtually no conservatives? Bush is ahead in the US, I would think that you could find a supporter or two. Maybe you should get out of the coffee shops and go to where people actually work. That's usually where you find conservatives.
Glenn Murphy, Indiana, USA

I would like to know how Republicans feel about non-American deaths. It's grim when the American death toll tops 1000 in Iraq, whereas more than 10,000 civilians have been killed. Don't these lives matter? Why are American lives better than everyone else's? How can we win a war on terror if the US keeps taking innocent people lives in other countries?
Janaki, California, US

Almost everyone I have met concedes that Bush may have messed up on foreign policy. They however, point out that Bush is also liable to give more tax breaks. It's a choice between caring for the bloke over in another country or one's own family. Also, I have noticed some section of the population refusing to sign ballot papers for Nader here. They mentioned that after having voted for Nader in 2000, they realised that Nader did not stand a true chance of occupying the White House. They may as well vote for the lesser of the two evils and get their vote counted. It would be interesting if you can see what people in other parts of the country have to say about this, Kevin.
Chip, Virginia, US

Kevin, at least you are getting see a good part of America. Chester county where I live is a Republican stronghold. Surprisingly, many people are not for Bush. Between the economy and the war in Iraq this county may go to a Democrat! Myself, I was laid off from my good paying programming job after Siemens bought the company. Now I make do putting up web pages and teaching college level on a part time basis. If you ever get this way, Downingtown offers both a couple of good dinners and a great micro-brew.
Mike Klaene, Downingtown, PA, USA

As much as I hate to admit it, I am only voting for Kerry because he is the lesser of two evils. This is the first election I have been able to participate in and I hope that I can help rock the vote. And yes, "Fahrenheit 911" DID push me over the edge off moderate Democrat to liberal Democrat who wants change. Too bad Nader doesn't have a strong enough following...
Moni, Indianapolis, IN, USA

Tactical voting in the US? Not in my wildest liberal dreams. My European friends are baffled by how Bush could ever get re-elected, which may well happen. They visit me on the coast and see a world quite appealing to their sensibilities. But how many people reading BBC's web site have been to the Midwest or the Bible Belt? It's a huge area full of conservative, reactionary fundamentalists....and really quite scary. God save America.
Mike, Los Angeles, CA

I voted for Nader in 2000. There was a lot of talk of vote swapping then. Someone in a blue state would offer to vote for Nader in exchange for someone in a swing sta



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