Along Fla.'s Interstate 4, a chorus of fear and anger over the state of America

The Washington Post's Philip Rucker journeys across America talking with voters to get to the heart of this volatile moment in American politics.
By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 26, 2010; 10:05 AM

Seven days. Seven states. In the final week of the campaign, Philip Rucker makes a mad dash across America listening to what voters have to say.

CELEBRATION, FLA. - Where better to get at the heart of this volatile moment in American politics, to understand the voters most under siege and where the most heated battles are being waged, than here in the chaotic state of Florida?

Perhaps the swingiest patch of this perennial swing state is the Interstate 4 corridor, an 80-mile strip of road, once swampland and now outer suburbia, that connects Orlando and Tampa.

Tank is low. Need gas. Off Exit 64 is the RaceTrac gas station.

On a humid Monday afternoon in Celebration, every version of Floridian seemed to pull in: commuters and vacationers, young singles and old couples, the recently laid-off and the retired well-to-do, delivery-truck drivers and snowbird golfers and diner fry cooks.

If you ask folks what the heck is going on in American politics today, in this frenetic final week of the midterm election year, a common theme emerges. Some are angry, some are disillusioned, others are scared and a few are just plain confused. They reveal a sense a deep trepidation about the future of their communities, of the economy, of the state of the nation's democracy.

Above all, they say, the unsettled nature of this year's politics is a reflection of a country that has somehow lost its way, an America unmoored from its principles and place at the top of the world.

"We're splitting apart," said Jerry Dabkowski, 56, an engineer from Clearwater who was passing through on his way to work. "Everybody's pointing fingers at one another, both parties, instead of getting down to what the problems are in this country.

"I mean, I just lost my job two weeks ago," he added. "I'm very fortunate I was able to find another one, but I have a lot of friends who are out of work right now, who are professionals, blue-collar workers, friends in the lower classes - it's affected us all."

Partisan bickering is nothing new, Dabkowski acknowledged, "but right now it just seems important that we all work together as one and try to get this country back to where it used to be, No. 1 in the world."

A lot of the people who stood pumping gas (recession-grade 87 unleaded goes for $2.68 a gallon) agreed.

Louis Diaz Garcia, 56, general manager of a processing company, white Suburban: "After they're all elected, they all do the same thing - nothing. These tea parties and all that, it's just a different flavor, but at the end of the day you get the same results, the same rhetoric."

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