On The Fence In 'Swingtown'

CBS News Correspondent Jim Axelrod has the latest in a series of election-year reports from Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley, an area that's accurately indicated trends in presidential politics for the past 20 years.

Stephanie Makhoul can't keep as close an eye on politics as she'd like. Her eyes are spoken for. So are her ears, arms, heart – and almost all of her time.

But in this election year, the mother of triplets does her best to keep up with things.

"A month ago, probably yes. I would have said I would have voted for President Bush," Makhoul says.

But a lot's happened in the last month – the prison scandal, more combat deaths. Her husband Eli is still solidly behind the president, but Stephanie has moved to the fence.

"Why aren't they getting out of there? Why isn't this coming more to an end? It just seems to be getting worse," she says.

In the Lehigh Valley, that fence is starting to fill up.

Gymnastics coaches Donna and Bill Strauss were both pretty solidly in the Bush camp a month ago, but now Donna is no longer sure.

"I'm on the fence. I'm wavering a little bit," she says. "Too many lives being lost, more lives being lost in the last month than in the first six months and that bothers me."

You want to know how people in the Lehigh Valley are going to vote? Ask them how they feel about the war. The economy still tops the list of most important issues, but pollsters are now finding it's how voters feel about the war that's the strongest predictor of who they're going to choose come November.

Professor Chris Borick's polling still shows a neck and neck race. But it also shows that support for Mr. Bush is starting to fray around the edges.

"More so than party, more so than gender, more so than age, more so than anything. The issue that correlates more with support is Bush's handling of the war," Borick says.

"They're not necessarily going over to the Kerry camp. But at the same time they're not so solidly in the Bush camp as they were. They're in play."

When we visited Republican John Annoni in March, the teacher, husband and father was also leaning toward the president. But he too is looking at Iraq and says he doesn't know how to choose between Kerry and Bush.

"I've got a rookie coming to bat for the first time and I've got a guy who's been in the major leagues for a little while but is in a slump," says Annoni. "So who do you send to bat?"

More and more, it's a question people here say they may not answer until they're walking into the booth.
  • Joel Roberts

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