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Americans React to Bush Address

February 1, 2006

President Bush delivered his fifth State of the Union address following arguably his worst year in office _ so-so poll numbers, the controversial war in Iraq, revelations about the administration’s secret domestic spying program, and missteps following Hurricane Katrina. Americans from Pennsylvania to California watched Tuesday with a mixture of skepticism and optimism _ often along party lines.

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ At an Uptown neighborhood bar, both Republicans and Democrats paused to watch with at least one common hope: Rebuilding the Gulf Coast will be a top issue for the federal government.

But neither Tom Short, 75, a Republican and a Korean War veteran, nor attorney Todd Hebert, 38, a Democrat, found much to cheer about in Bush’s address.

After Bush mentioned the Gulf Coast in one or two sentences deep into his speech, Short exclaimed, ``Did I miss something? I think that’s a crying shame.″

Hebert was just as dismayed. Throughout the speech, he had been looking at his watch to see how long it would take Bush to mention the wrecked area.

``We are some of the most devastated people in a country right now and we’re really feeling left behind. And that speech did nothing to make us not feel left behind.″

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COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) _ At a private home tucked in a quiet neighborhood in central Orange County, about two dozen people gathered to watch over tacos and potato chips.

Julie Carlson, 29-year-old social worker, said she felt ``negative″ about the overall state of the nation. She said her biggest concern was bringing home U.S. troops from Iraq and had grown more uneasy with the war as time passed.

``I don’t understand the true reasons for why we’re there and I feel like we were mislead. There doesn’t seem to be any rational,″ said Carlson, a Democrat.

Carlson also said she was concerned about health care and Medicare reform because she works primarily with senior citizens. ``There seems to be every week something that comes up, something I don’t agree with or something that disheartens me,″ she said.

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ Bush did nothing to calm the fears of Anne Jowaisas, a 38-year-old nanny who identified herself as an independent and voted for John Kerry in 2004.

``In terms of his speech, it was a good speech and he delivered it pretty strongly,″ said Jowaisas. ``But I had a lot of skepticism what he had to say.″

She said that Bush’s plan to reduce the deficit by 2009 by cutting programs raised plenty of questions, asking, ``how is all this going to balance out?″

Jowaisas said that despite the president’s low approval ratings, the country ``is going in a Bush direction″ and believes the religious right has too much influence in Washington, D.C.

``It’s not a democracy anymore. It’s special interest groups,″ she said.

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) _ As a retired accountant and a World War II veteran, Joe Benavidez has two big worries on his mind: the national budget and the war in Iraq.

``The nation is going broke. We get into debt every day with this war,″ said Benavidez, 84, who saw his share of war as an Army branch commander during the early 1940s. ``Veterans are not going to get what they want or what they need. They’re going to cut veteran benefits. They’re going to cut welfare, lots of things.″

Benavidez, who described himself as a lifelong Democrat, watched as the president started his speech with talk about the fight against terrorism. Benavidez said the United States should not be in Iraq because the war is costing lives and resources.

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DENVER (AP) _ Jesse Samora, 21, a political science and history major at Metropolitan State College of Denver, treated Bush’s speech like the Super Bowl, hanging out with friends and barbecuing hamburgers.

They leaped out of their seats to cheer Bush when he said ``hindsight alone is not wisdom″ and ``second guessing is not a strategy,″ as he referred to recent criticism of the war in Iraq.

``All of us stood up,″ he said.

Samora was too young to vote in 2000, but said he would have voted for Bush, just as he did in 2004. The speech only strengthened his belief that Bush was doing a good job protecting the country from terrorist.

``As long as I can go to sleep at night and know I’m safe,″ said Samora, who also works for an airline at Denver International Airport and said he’s seen firsthand how safety measures protect Americans.

Stephen Noriega managed to watch during a rare spare moment between classes at the college and his full-time job as a hotel front desk clerk.

Bush’s talk about the war on terror and lessening the country’s dependence on foreign oil didn’t surprise Noriega, but he was immediately concerned when the president discussed cutting more than 130 programs from the budget to save $14 billion next year.

``One tends to worry what those programs are,″ Noriega said adding that he’s concerned some of those cuts will come out of education, despite the president’s pledge of more funding for math and science.

``I have to write a $200 to $300 check for my son to go to public school, those are issues that affect me,″ Noriega said. ``There have been times where I have not been able to take a class, just because I’m being frugal with my money.″

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ARDMORE, Pa. (AP) _ Two men at a gym in this tony community outside Philadelphia were united on the importance of staying healthy _ but split along partisan lines when it came to Bush.

Mark Plousis, 41, an insurance executive and lifelong Republican, said the president has steered the country as well as can be expected given the crises and natural disasters he has had to confront.

``He’s doing fine,″ Plousis said as he worked out. ``Has he made mistakes, yeah, but don’t we all?″

But Democrat Robert Jones, 48, a gym membership consultant, said he’s not surprised that the president is casting the war on terrorism in a positive light.

``The president is the biggest salesman in the world,″ he said. ``In a state of the union speech, you’re not going to talk doom and gloom. You’re going to put an optimistic spin on it.″

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Associated Press writers Brett Martel in New Orleans, Gillian Flaccus in Costa Mesa, Calif., Melanie Dabovich in Albuquerque, N.M., Kim Nguyen and Megan McCloskey in Denver, Deborah Yao in Ardmore, Pa., and Michael Felberbaum, in Richmond, Va. contributed to this report.

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