Politics That Go Against the Grain

Frank Frost, a Korean War vet in Dubuque, Iowa, calls himself
Frank Frost, a Korean War vet in Dubuque, Iowa, calls himself "more hawkish" than most Democrats but believes the country is better off under their leadership. (By Kevin E. Schmidt For The Washington Post)
By Lynne Duke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 2, 2006

DUBUQUE, Iowa -- On Main Street in this Mississippi River town, the bar at Mario's Italian Restaurant is a hothouse of politics these days, a place where folks such as Cheryl Walser Kramer, a Republican, and Frank Frost, a Democrat, hurl sharp-tongued barbs across party lines.

"She's probably packing heat," Frost, 71, jokes when Kramer says she's a member of the National Rifle Association.

Kramer teases back, "I'm gonna get a bumper sticker: 'I only shoot Democrats.' "

Debbie Gau, the bartender, glides through the friendly fire, filling Frost's glass with whiskey, Kramer's with beer, and letting them carry on the rhetorical war here in Iowa's 1st Congressional District. It is one of the super-close races that could decide whether the Republicans lose control of the House of Representatives -- and Gau, it turns out, could be part of the reason why.

Though she keeps quiet about her politics when her regulars are revved up, she's got some distinct views of her own.

Gau, 52, a Democrat, supported the war. She thought Iraq had attacked the United States, and she thought it right that the United States should hit back. But then the war dragged on. The death toll rose. She's got a brother working as a civilian contractor over there and worries about him every day.

"I just don't think we should be over there," she says. "We should just leave."

The war looms large in this year's midterm elections, so the pollsters say, and sentiments such as Gau's are the reason why: the drift of support away from war, the struggle to find a rationale for continuing a war in which U.S. troop deaths mount and the chaos deepens.

In Iowa's 1st, which has sent only Republicans to the House since 1978, the open-seat race pits Democrat Bruce Braley against Republican Mike Whalen. But in several interviews on Main Streets around this district, it becomes clear that people are focused less on the candidates and far more on the big issues of the day: corruption, scandal and polarized politics; the cost of health care, the quality of education, the economy and the war above all.

People are cynical about politics, at least about the other party's politics, and so Democrats especially believe that things have gone off the rails in Washington.

Gau, for one, is not even sure she'll vote. She's disaffected from politics altogether.

"I just think politics is crooked," she says. "The rich pay to get what they want from the people in office. . . . It's like the Mafia, with laws. They get to run what they want, when they want. They don't mean nothing that they say."

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