With days to go before the election, Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Sarah Palin all have plans to make campaign stops this week in Missouri — visits that show just how coveted the Show Me State is in the presidential race.
The swing state voted twice for Republican George W. Bush, and twice for Democrat Bill Clinton. And polls show Obama and rival John McCain in a dead heat there.
In the week before the election, NPR traveled through Missouri as part of a series of stops along the Mississippi River to take the depth of voters.
It takes about four minutes to cross the Mississippi by way of a small passenger ferry that shuttles between Ste. Genevieve, Mo., and Modoc, Ill. The deckhand, Dallen Rhymer, knows the river well: He has been on it, in it and around it since he was a boy growing up in Ste. Genevieve.
"It's something not to be messed with, something definitely to respect," Rhymer says. "There's a lot of power there. It deserves respect and know-how to get around it."
The Obama Supporter
As the ferryboat skims across the fast, muddy Mississippi, Rhymer says he pays as much attention to politics as the next guy.
"I wouldn't say I'm a Democrat; I wouldn't say I'm a Republican," he says. "I want the guy in there that I think is going to do the best, whether Chinese, black, white, purple. It don't matter."
This year, that leads him to Barack Obama. Rhymer says Obama is a "good talker" and that he'd like to see the Democrat speak, but is too busy. He says McCain doesn't appeal to him.
"When I hear [McCain] talk about politics, economy and other stuff — I done heard that eight years ago, four years ago when Bush ran," Rhymer says. "It seems like you're listening to the same story. It's like Obama says, it's time for change, and I believe it. Somebody for the working man, that's what I want to see."
Asked what he'd like to see changed, Rhymer says it's a "big list," and that health care is important.
"There's tons of people with no health care at all — something needs to happen for them, it really does," he says. "I wouldn't mind [Obama] raising taxes a little bit if it give me health care. I wouldn't mind it at all. I'm one of them people stuck in the middle. I make too much to get assistance, but then, I don't make enough to pay for it."
The McCain Supporter
The ferry docks on the Illinois side of the river, and Rhymer guides a fuel tanker truck on board.
In the cab is Tim Heller, a 35-year-old trucker from Ste. Genevieve. Heller, sporting a NASCAR jacket, says he's voting for McCain.
"We don't really know too much about Obama," Heller says. "Some things he wants to do with taxes I don't agree with; it makes me nervous. Abortion is a big issue with me. I just think McCain is going to be better for the country than Obama. That's who I'm going to go with."
Heller says he's never voted for a Democrat and never will.
"I don't believe that my money that I make should have to help the guy that has the same ability to go out and get a job," he says. "Everybody has the same opportunities in this country, and if you can't make it, then I don't know where to tell you to go."
Heller also says he doesn't agree with a comment Obama made about "spreading the wealth."
"That, to me, is not what this country is based on," he says. "I feel Obama is more of a socialist ... and that scares me.
"I don't think he's going to turn things around like he says he is," Heller says. "He always speaks of change, but he never exactly tells us what he's going to change. Like I said, it scares me. I'm not ready for that yet. I'm voting McCain."
A Divided Country
After landing at the Missouri side of the river, deckhand Rhymer steers Heller's rig and the other trucks and cars off the ferry, which soon heads back the other way. Rhymer says the country is divided.
"You have several people out there — you know — they don't hear nothing," Rhymer says. "They ain't got their ears open, they're just using their eyes. All they see is black, that's all they see. I hear it all day long."
He says he hears people saying "all kinds of stuff," but he'd rather not say what exactly.
"This country needs to get past it," Rhymer says. "It's time."
As for whether he thinks the nation has gotten past the race issue, Rhymer says: "No. I don't."