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At the Mudpie, Patrons Laud GOP Aims but Doubt Results

CHATTER OF CHATTANOOGA

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AT the Mudpie, a coffee shop in an up-and-coming arts district in Chattanooga, Tenn., waiter Mike Hacker could easily be mistaken for a liberal.

He sports a ponytail, wears four earrings in his left ear - one a peace symbol - and talks more like a southern California surfer than a Southerner.

But Mr. Hacker, a student at the University of Tennessee, calls himself an ``open-minded'' conservative.

As such, he's glad the Republicans are in control of Congress, although he admits to only superficial knowledge of the GOP ``Contract with America.''

Moreover, his party loyalty, and that of other Chattanoogans, may not run very deep.

``If bad things come of [the Contract,] it will just go back in the opposite direction,'' he says. ``That's what we do when we don't like change.''

Many Chattanoogans interviewed - from artists to city workers to manufacturers - voiced support for key Republican Contract issues such as prayer in schools, welfare reform, and tax cuts. But there's an underlying skepticism here in the buckle of the Bible Belt that any party in Washington - Republican or Democrat - can successfully tackle these issues. While approving of the direction the Republicans plan, many here have adopted a wait-and-see attitude.

The mostly conservative opinions in this city of 152,000 on the banks of the Tennessee River are not surprising. They represent the prevailing attitudes and values of the South, says Robert Swansbrough, an associate dean at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga.

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