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Mood in Mid-America

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American satisfaction levels are below average, "but it's not as catastrophic as we've seen at other times - like the early '90s and late '70s," says Frank Newport of Gallup.

It is an attitude that stretches to the Civic Center in Rock Springs, Wyo., where supervisor Laurie Barton watches children scurry past the front desk to the pool and basketball court. "I don't feel a lot of hope, but I also don't feel a lot of gloom and doom," she says. "We're at a stage where we have to be very careful."

Colleague Anne-Marie Orester is more blunt: "There are some bad things going on."

Squeezed between the barren crags of the Leucite Hills, Rock Springs is as close as this century comes to the Wild West of old. Beyond the Wal-Marts and McDonald's that crowd alongside Interstate 80 thrive modern-day prospectors and fortune-seekers, come to Rock Springs to ply the Jonah natural gas field north of town.

Ms. Orester eyes them with suspicion. A student and a lifelong resident, she says prostitution and violent crime are on the rise, and there aren't enough police to keep up. President Bush's overeagerness to throw open the door to energy exploration is part of the problem, she adds, and she doesn't stop there. Rattling off references to British MI-5 reports on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, she begins a diatribe against the Iraq war that would have Michael Moore giving her a Palme d'Or.

To be sure, this is the heart of Bush Country, but these states are not as monolithic as they would appear on an electoral map.

There is a deep concern about whether America is on the right path - and there is a diversity of opinions.

At the Stein House Cafe in Boonville, Mo., waiter Seth Bailey is holding forth. The subject is the war and the economy - the two subjects that Gallup pollster Mr. Newport says most influence public opinion - and the exchange is an echo of others from Rock Springs to Goodland.

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