Michigan Town Weighs Presidential Choices

Michigan, with its 17 electoral votes, has emerged as a key battleground state. How are the candidates' messages playing with potential voters in the small town of Marysville, Mich.?

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is Day to Day from NPR News. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

I'm Alex Chadwick. It's a quiet day in the presidential campaign. No candidates sniping.

BRAND: No rapid-response TV ads. In fact, no candidates' ads at all. The campaigns have called a truce to mark the anniversary of the September 11th attacks.

CHADWICK: We are continuing sampling the views of voters in some key states. Yesterday, Colorado, today, Michigan, with a large number of independents and voters who cross party lines, the race is tight. And in small cities like Marysville, all the undecided voters could swing the results either way. Celeste Headlee reports.

CELESTE HEADLEE: Marysville boasts somewhere between 9,000 and 10,000 people, with a long history of industry dating back to the sawmills of the 1700s. It's home to the American Tape factory, and a new ethanol plant, but like so many in Michigan, Marysville's residents are struggling to find jobs.

Ms. KATHY JOHNSON (Resident, Marysville, Michigan): I'm laid off.

HEADLEE: Oh, where were you laid off from?

Ms. JOHNSON: Empire Tool in Memphis.

HEADLEE: I'm so sorry.

Ms. JOHNSON: Yeah, so am I.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. JOHNSON: I'm very, very unhappy about that.

HEADLEE: Kathy Johnson (ph) has just finished breakfast at the Four Star Restaurant, a tradition in Marysville. There's a rush of customers trying to get the $1.99 special before 11 o'clock.

Ms JOHNSON: I would like to be able to go to work and do a fair day's work and come home, and not have to draw unemployment or have my unemployment run out on me, but there's just no place to work right now.

HEADLEE: For both campaigns, job creation is a rallying cry. So is getting back to so-called small-town values. Ralph White (ph) says he's glad the candidates are talking about small-town values, but Marysville isn't a small town anymore.

Mr. RALPH WHITE (Resident, Marysville, Michigan): Well, it was a small town when I moved here 55 years ago. There was nothing here except this place here, and it was across the street.

HEADLEE: White won't say who he's voting for.

Mr. WHITE: Oh, Honey, I don't talk about that.

HEADLEE: Oh, you don't.

Mr. WHITE: No.

HEADLEE: How come?

Mr. WHITE: Because. I like to go in there and do what I've got to do.

HEADLEE: White won't discuss it, while others like Kathy Johnson simply haven't made a decision.

Ms. JOHNSON: No, I'm still a little bit undecided. I'm not convinced yet, not totally convinced.

HEADLEE: That's echoed by Sandy Delong (ph).

Ms. SANDY DELONG (Resident, Marysville, Michigan): I just have to make up my mind, and I'm going to weigh it out as best as I can, and then I'll go for it.

HEADLEE: For Delong, taxes are the most important issue.

Ms. DELONG: You know, you get your fair taxes, you know, leave the little guy alone and let him make a living, and that's about it.

HEADLEE: And for Kathy Johnson, laid off and looking for work, it's all about jobs.

Ms. JOHNSON: The free-trade agreement, I think, has really killed us. I think that's what has made us lose all our jobs. And that - we've got to have some kind of tax breaks so that you can have a business here.

HEADLEE: Mary Beth Schneider (ph) has just a minute or two to talk while she's shopping at Rite Aid. She has a longer list.

Ms. MARY BETH SCHNEIDER (Resident, Marysville, Michigan): Oil prices, obviously, and just, you know, every day, your safety and your grocery bill, and things that affect you and your morals.

HEADLEE: But if there's a consensus among the 20 people or so we talked to, it's this. What they want is a candidate that's going to look out for the little guy.

Ms. DELONG: There's no particular thing, and I don't care if you're black, white, Spanish, whatever. I don't care, as long as you give me a fair shake.

HEADLEE: Sandy Delong is still deciding which candidate will do that, and both campaigns are very interested in learning what's going to tip the scales to their side in this small town and dozens like it across Michigan. For NPR News, I'm Celeste Headlee.

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