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Americans Feel Impact of Shaky Economy, Reflect on Race Relations

In recent weeks, economic turmoil and the role of race in politics have emerged as top national issues. In the second part of the NewsHour's Big Picture discussion, a group of citizens share their views on the economy and reflect on U.S. race relations.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Now, picking up from where we left off last night, the second part of our Big Picture discussion on Iraq, the economy, and race. Judy Woodruff is in charge.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Since November, the NewsHour has visited six states around the country to hear what issues are resonating with American voters during the presidential election season.

    We brought 10 of those voters to our Washington, D.C., studios to continue that conversation.

    Roberta Berthold traveled from California, where she's a mortgage loan officer in Los Angeles and a Democrat.

    Lori Staehling is a real estate agent in San Diego. She's a Republican.

    From Colorado, Mark Harris is a seed farmer in Grand Junction and an independent who leans Democratic.

    And Christy Rodriguez, a Republican, is a home educator from Greeley, Colorado.

    Mark McLain came to us from Arkansas. He's an independent who leans Republican. And last year, he lost his job at a Whirlpool plant in Fort Smith.

    John Maycroft was on our panel in New Jersey. He considers himself an independent and voted in the state's Democratic primary. He's a graduate student at Rutgers University.

    Sherine el-Abd, from Clifton, New Jersey, is a defense contractor and a Republican.

    Terra Cole traveled from Minnesota. She's an independent who participated in her state's Democratic caucus. She works for Hennepin County.

    From Nevada, Henry Lujan is a Republican and an Iraq war veteran. He's a code enforcement officer for the city of Las Vegas.

    And Verlinda Johnson, she works for an Internet service provider and is the treasurer of the Nevada PTA. She's a Democrat.

    The first part of our conversation focused on the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq. We then turned to the recent uncertainty in the economy.

    How is this economic downturn that we are in affecting you, Sherine El-Abd? You live in New Jersey, defense contractor. Is it touching your life?

  • SHERINE EL-ABD:

    Up until a few days ago, no. But I have a son that works for Bear Stearns, so I'm directly impacted with a lot of his retirement money investors. And that used to be one of the most conservative investment, houses. So…

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Will he be able to keep his job?

  • SHERINE EL-ABD:

    He doesn't know. You know, it's unpredictable, and not knowing is a very troubling thing. And when it hits close to home, you really feel the pain always a lot more. Had you asked me that last week, I would have said, you know, I read about it, I'm aware of it, I know. I have compassion, but it's a lot more painful when you're directly impacted by it.