STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.
The New Year means the end of the first year for this Democratic Congress. So this morning, we're going to ask how their work connects with some voters we've come to know.
We took a journey across America one year ago; we did it by telephone. Before Congress changed hands, we phoned the people all the way along U.S. Highway 50. It runs from California right across to the nation's capital and beyond.
One year later, we're going to take that journey again. I've got a map of Route 50 in front of me. It is longer than the span of my arms. We've highlighted Route 50 all the way across and we've called back some of the same people.
This highly-unscientific survey begins in Rancho Cordova, California with Jean Fox(ph). Welcome back to the program.
Ms. JEAN FOX (Make-up Artist): Thank you. It's so nice to be here.
INSKEEP: And I want to remind people that you are a make-up artist, right?
Ms. FOX: Yes.
INSKEEP: And your clients include, well, a rather famous movie star who became a governor.
Ms. FOX: That's one of them.
INSKEEP: Yeah. You told us last time that you were a Republican who was feeling Democratic.
Ms. FOX: Right.
INSKEEP: How are you feeling this time?
Ms. FOX: More independent, I guess.
INSKEEP: Independent. How so?
Ms. FOX: I'm just looking for somebody that's going to strike a chord with me - and maybe in Ron Paul.
INSKEEP: Oh, you're thinking about the presidential campaign.
Ms. FOX: Yes.
INSKEEP: And Ron Paul, who is a Republican, but former libertarian -he's exciting you with some of the things he's saying.
Ms. FOX: It seems to make sense. Just wanting to make a change, less government.
INSKEEP: Less government. Now, you said last time that you were concerned about the government's invasion of privacy. You were telling us a story about a police lock-down because of crime in your neighborhood.
Ms. FOX: Yeah.
INSKEEP: Are things happening in your community this time around that concern you?
Ms. FOX: It's more on the business end this year. Business is really slow.
INSKEEP: You're talking about the film industry and so forth.
Ms. FOX: Right.
INSKEEP: So you're a little concerned about the economy.
Jerry Church is the next voice, as we follow Route 50 across the country - through Nevada, through Utah. We end up in La Junta, Colorado.
Mr. JERRY CHURCH: Yeah, we're on the plains in southeast corner of Colorado.
INSKEEP: And what's the economy like there?
Mr. CHURCH: Well, you know, we're a small town of about 10,000, and we fight all the time to maintain - we're agricultural and we have a couple of livestock auctions that sell a lot of cattle.
INSKEEP: So what's on your mind when you think about what's happening in your community? What concerns you of anything?
Mr. CHURCH: Well, we have a problem with the Army. They have a maneuvering area down south of us. And now they want to about quadruple lot. And it would really hurt us because it would just take out a lot of really fine ranch people, fine ranch lands.
INSKEEP: So the expanding U.S. military is causing some concern there.
Mr. CHURCH: It's kind of riled up - there's lots of bumper stickers. And our people are not antimilitary in any way, they just don't think that's the place to expand.
INSKEEP: Are there people in your area who have been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan?
Mr. CHURCH: Oh, yeah.
INSKEEP: And I believe you told us last time that you are a supporter of the war.
Mr. CHURCH: Oh, yes.
INSKEEP: And another year of combat has not changed your view?
Mr. CHURCH: No, not mine.
INSKEEP: Well, let's continue across the country here. We're traversing Route 50 across the United States and talking with a few voters in different places. This map is so long. I've got to slide it here to reach Flora, Illinois, which is where we have Dave Bert(ph) on the line. He is a farmer. Mr. Bert, welcome back to the program.
Mr. DAVE BERT (Farmer): Thank you.
INSKEEP: Last time we spoke with you, you were in the middle of delivering some wheat, I think, to a grain elevator. Yeah?
Mr. BERT: We were delivering some of our harvested wheat. And we've gotten through harvest this year. And a lot of things have happened in agriculture that relate to a lot of things that are affect the entire nation.
INSKEEP: What do you mean?
Mr. BERT: Well, first of all, you know, we have a big debate over biofuels.
INSKEEP: Oh, yeah.
Mr. BERT: And we discussed that earlier. And we've seen some tremendous increases in farm commodities. And the end result of that has been an increase in the price of food.
INSKEEP: Especially corn.
Mr. BERT: Corn, beans, wheat - all are at record highs right now.
INSKEEP: Now, we should figure this out. Corn goes up because there's more demand for ethanol. And is the price of everything else going up because people are planting less of everything in order to plant more corn?
Mr. BERT: Well, you got acres battle between three or four different commodity groups. You need so many acres of soybeans, corn and wheat for both food and biofuels. And…
INSKEEP: Did you plant more corn this year?
Mr. BERT: We planted 90 percent of our farm to corn, which isn't unusual. We're heavy corn growers. Next year, we'll be almost all soybeans. One of the things that's really affecting us is the price of fuel. Diesel fuel farm - diesel fuel is over $3 a gallon. You're starting to see businesses here really suffer because people are spending so much of their disposable income on fuel. And it's going to get worse.
INSKEEP: Back along the line, Jerry Church in Colorado, Jean Fox in California - are you seeing more and more effects from high fuel prices too?
Ms. FOX: Certainly. This is Jean. I had agents in Reno and in San Francisco. And I dropped them because of the price of gas.
INSKEEP: Reno. What's that drive from Rancho Cordova, a couple of hours?
Ms. FOX: They're both about two hours. I could do a better distance and become profitable.
INSKEEP: How about in Colorado, Mr. Church? I bet there's a lot of wide-open space, as lot of driving distances where you are.
Mr. CHURCH: Oh, yeah. We have to drive at least 60 miles to a bigger city in Pueblo and, yes, people are grumbling, but somehow they seem to find money to do it.
INSKEEP: Is it affecting you much?
Mr. CHURCH: I'm retired so I just live with it and listen to everybody complain.
(Soundbite of laughter)
INSKEEP: Well, as long as you get what you need to get.
Mr. CHURCH: Yeah.
INSKEEP: Well, let's continue right along Route 50 now. We're continuing this conversation across the country with voters we spoke with a year ago as the Democratic Congress began. Jean Ackerman(ph) is in Milford, Ohio. Welcome to the program again.
Ms. JEAN ACKERMAN (Resident, Ohio): Thank you.
INSKEEP: And remind us where you worked.
Ms. ACKERMAN: We own our own business, which is a retail meat market.
INSKEEP: And you told us a year ago you had 2800 linear feet of meat in the counters.
Ms. ACKERMAN: Well, we cut that down because of the reason just the way that some of the other ones are speaking about, is the fuel charge that we get from the purveyors when they deliver.
INSKEEP: Do you know how many linear feet you have now?
Ms. ACKERMAN: It's probably between - around 15.
INSKEEP: You cut it almost in half.
Ms. ACKERMAN: Yeah. Well, see, the cost of the beef that we get in, see, is shipped from out west and the grain that they have, you know, that is bad to the animals. And then, of course, that's put on to the beef fair and then he passes it to us. Plus, the fuel cost.
INSKEEP: The grain cost that we were hearing about from Dave Bert, we got the fuel cost, we got everything happening to you.
Ms. ACKERMAN: Yes, we do. The profits are just not there anymore.
INSKEEP: Well, let me just ask if anybody along the line here have a presidential candidate they're excited about?
Mr. BERT: (Unintelligible)
INSKEEP: INSKEEP: Yes.
Mr. BERT: The states. We just don't have anybody that's coming to the front that is in anything except a professional politician. And it seems like all of these is a power struggle. And the things that I'm concerned about are energy independence, the illegal immigration thing has really got upset, health care costs are just horrible here. I'm starting to really get concerned about this financial crisis in the subprime area. And there doesn't seem to me by working on solutions to problems other than trying to ponder to different groups for votes.
INSKEEP: If we go up and down the line, I hear every single one of you in this highly unscientific survey, every single one of you concerned about the economy. Am I hearing you all correctly?
Ms. FOX: Yes.
Mr. CHURCH: Yes, in La Junta, Colorado.
INSKEEP: And, Jean Ackerman, you said yes?
Ms. ACKERMAN: Yes, I did.
INSKEEP: And, of course, Dave Bert just said yes quite eloquently. Anybody optimistic about anything?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. FOX: I'm optimistic about 2008.
INSKEEP: This is Jean Fox in California speaking, right?
Ms. FOX: Yes. I've heard that this is the year of endings. If this is a year of endings, then next year is a year of new beginnings.
INSKEEP: Well, all right. Jean Fox in California, Jerry Church in Colorado, Dave Bert in Illinois, and Jean Ackerman in Ohio, thanks to all of you.
Ms. FOX: Thank you very much.
Ms. ACKERMAN: Cheers.
Mr. CHURCH: Thank you very much, Steve.
Ms. FOX: Happy New Year everyone.
Mr. BERT: Talk to you again in another year.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. FOX: We'll be calling you.
Ms. ACKERMAN: Bye-bye.
Ms. FOX: Bye.
Mr. CHURCH: Bye-bye.
INSKEEP: So that's a very quick journey across the country on U.S. Highway 50. And on Monday, we're going to start doing this again. We're going to go across the United States and sample public opinion along Interstate 10 from California through Texas past New Orleans to Florida.