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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 September, 2004, 10:09 GMT 11:09 UK
A safe pair of hands
By Richard Allen Greene
BBC News Online in Nashville, Tennessee

Nashville, Tennessee is more than 1,400 kilometres from Washington, DC and nearly 1,800 from New York - but if you think homeland security is not an issue here, just walk past the local naval recruiting station carrying a camera.

BBC News Online asked US voters how important the issue of security was to them.

A journalist who tried it recently was politely but firmly summoned inside, where the station's public affairs officer examined the camera as a naval engineer and the station chief watched.

The armed forces are not the only ones on their guard in the home of country music.

Last year state Governor Phil Bredesen established a Tennessee Office of Homeland Security with a retired US Marine Corps general at its head.

The agency's mission is to "detect, deter and protect citizens from terrorism".

Americans demand no less as they confront the first presidential election since the attacks of 11 September 2001.

Tennessee concerns

Even in the Volunteer State, many have terrorists on their minds.

"You never know where they are - they could be absolutely anywhere," Martha Morris says, pointing out that some 11 September plotters lived in Florida before the hijackings.

Her son Drew signed up for the marines in the wake of the attacks, which she calls "the biggest wake-up call we have ever had in our lifetime".

Voters' priorities
Security (41%)
Economy (26%)
All other issues (23% )
Source: Pew Research Center for People and the Press

She is now head of Tennessee Marine Families, a state-wide network of relatives of service people.

She says the world is more dangerous now than during the Cold War.

Now, she says, "it's not like a country wants to take over the United States. These are radical madmen who want to rule the world.

"They don't go for military or political [targets]. It doesn't matter if you have a military connection or not. If you're an American, they want you dead."

Non-partisan worry

Mrs Morris is a strong supporter of President George W Bush, but concern about homeland security crosses party lines.

Rowland Huddleston wears a badge proclaiming himself a "Veteran for Kerry".

He says the world was safer in the days of superpower confrontation between the US and Soviet Union.

You've just got to hope and pray that God looks down on everybody and keeps something like that from happening again
Thomas Harris

"There were generals on both sides who were concerned about the safety of their countries, and they kept a lid on things."

Today, by contrast, the United States confronts a different kind of enemy.

"Terrorism is like a cancer. It has metastasised."

Americans consider national security and US wars abroad to be the most important issue at stake in the presidential election, a poll by the Pew Center for People and the Press suggests.

It is the first time in decades that economy has not topped the list of concerns - security came first with 41%, while 26% cited the economy.

Good for Bush

That order of priorities seems likely to help President Bush in November.

Americans generally consider him a safer pair of hands on security, while they prefer Senator John Kerry's domestic proposals, polls suggest.

But some Americans say the Bush administration has gone overboard with legislation such as the Patriot Act, which gives the government sweeping powers to monitor citizens' communications and activities.

Bookstores and libraries have complained about provisions that enable the government to demand information on people's reading habits.

Unemployed worker Sherman Drake of Detroit calls the war on terror "an excuse to take our freedoms.

"I go along with homeland security, but you cannot destroy freedom because of homeland security."

He wants the candidates to focus on improving the economy and getting the unemployed back to work.

"Would you rather be blown up or starve?" he asks.

'God's hands'

Thomas Harris of Nashville also says the economy is the most important factor in deciding who he will vote for.

Kevin Anderson and Richard Greene
Kevin Anderson and Richard Greene are travelling across the US to get to the heart of the issues in this year's election. They are sending back regular in-depth reports telling us what they find

He thinks the country has responded adequately to the attacks on New York and Washington.

"I don't think they're going to let another 9/11 happen again. I think that kind of opened everybody's eyes when that took place," he says.

He is not sure that there can ever be foolproof domestic surveillance.

"As far as the terrorists and stuff, you're always going to have people living over here from other countries that you don't know about. There's no way that you can find them all.

"You've just got to hope and pray that God looks down on everybody and keeps something like that from happening again."

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