Hearing American Voices

Average Americans talk about issues they hope Obama will address as president.

Nov. 5, 2008 — -- President-elect Barack Obama claimed victory late last night amid the cheers of thousands of supporters.

When he is sworn into office in January, however, millions of Americans hope he will hear and remember, more than the cheers, their concerns.

"Good Morning America" traveled the nation the week before the election to hear those concerns firsthand. Each story was told by an individual speaking specifically about his or her life, and yet was emblematic of the struggles of thousands of others.

Life of Cars in the Balance

Keith Brown, an auto union president from Dearborn, Michigan, worried about the economy and the auto industry in particular. He worried for good reason -- Brown's family tree is coated in motor oil.

"I have worked for Ford now over 15 years," Brown said. "My dad spent 35 years with UAW Ford. My brother has about 10 years with Ford. My father-in-law worked at Ford. My sister-in-law works at Ford. My brother-in-law works at Ford. I have an uncle that retired from Ford. We are an auto industry family."

Brown said that he fears the potential GM and Chrysler merger, which could result in plant closings and job loss. Even without a merger, Brown said, things are getting hard in Detroit.

"When the auto industry is in a downturn, Detroit and Michigan, they feel the same downturn," he said. Brown said people do not go out to eat as much, consider giving up vacations and have "lost the initiative" to decorate for the holidays.

But Brown said that the next president's priority ought to be, above all else, fixing health care.

"I think it's sad at this point in the country. You look at the seniors and retirees -- those are the people who built this country... And there are some out there that are making the choice between getting this month's supply of prescriptions or using that money to buy groceries at the grocery store," he said.

The Family of a Soldier

For the Fletcher family of Seymour, Mo., the war in Iraq dominates discussion. Al and Valerie Fletcher have a son in the Marines currently serving in Iraq in a war they say seems to never end.

"It's an understatement to say that we're ready to see this war over with," Valerie said. "Christmas this year, our family will be scattered again.... So it'll be a Christmas where we're waiting for next Christmas to be together again."

The Fletchers have watched their son leave for Iraq three times already, and said they worry increasingly about his safety.

"It really hurts. To me, it's a crap shoot or a gamble," said Valerie. "The more times he goes over, the more chances he's got of getting hurt."

At home, things are not much easier for the Fletchers.

"I'm just an average guy that's trying to punch out a living as best we can," Al told "Good Morning America." "I am a small business owner and I drive a truck for a living. I'm usually gone for anywhere between two to three weeks at a time depending on what the economy is doing.... I have heard of Joe the Plumber, but I'm Al the Truck Driver."

Losing a Home to a Crippled Economy

For Richard and Juanita Gonzalez, the loss of their house to the foreclosure crisis also meant the loss of a dream.

"Me and my wife work very hard and we can't afford it," Richard said. "This house meant everything to me and my family and now we're not going to have it. Christmas this year won't be what we hoped it to be. We really planned on having Christmas in our dream home, but obviously, that's not going to happen."

So for the Gonzalezes, the economy is the number one concern.

"I think one way to improve our situation right here in the United States is for the government to step in to all the big corporations and their greed and what they're allowed to do to people," Richard said. "There's no way for anyone to keep their head above water if the government doesn't step in."

Another concern for the Gonzalezes: health care.

"I think the health care issue today has really gotten bad. But with the health insurance, with our daughter having asthma, the medications are so expensive," Richard said.

The Worries of the Average Joes

Button and bumper sticker makers everywhere must have been devastated to find out that the now-famous Joe the Plumber's first name is actually Sam. Luckily, "Good Morning America" tracked down five real Joes to see what was on their minds.

For Joe "The Mechanic" Kriviski, the economy and national defense top his list of concerns. Joe "The Police Chief" Price said he is worried about the economy more than anything else. Joe "The Restaurant Owner" Faruggio agreed, as did Joe "The Teacher" Hills. Office dad Joe "The Technical Writer" is concerned only that the American people elected the most "effective" leader.

"I think that all those Joes out there collectively make up our society," said Hills, "and the Joes are concerned."

Price, the police chief, said he is concerned about the city's budget cuts.

"We're seeing that pinch as well," he said. "We're facing very stringent budget cuts and it's going to result in larger classrooms, severe cuts in public safety."

Kriviski, the mechanic, placed some of the blame on Congress.

"You have people who have been in Congress for so long, they're out of touch with the Joes," Kriviski said. "They wouldn't know what a gallon of milk costs cause they've never bought one in the last 30 years."

"If I ran my classroom like they're running this country," teacher Joe Hills said, "I'd be in deep trouble. The kids would run all over me."

Joe Faruggio, the restaurant owner, said there was a lot at stake in this election.

"I came to America. I know the American Dream has been alive for me," he said. "I have been grateful for this country. I would like to see a president that reawakes that, reassures me that if I keep working hard, I'm going to get rewarded."

Price is not terribly optimistic.

"The American Dream to me has always been [that] my kids will have a better life than I did and we've all worked hard to make sure our kids get an education, that they have opportunities that we may no have had," he said. "I have to tell you, I'm kind of fearful."

The Elliots' Healthcare Hurt

Kim and Larry Elliot of St. Louis, Mo., have felt the health care hurt like thousands of others.

"One of the most important things to us at this point is making healthcare and insurance affordable and available to everyone," Larry said.

"We both have autoimmune disorders which cause us both to be uninsurable for healthcare," Kim said. "Our retirement is almost gone. We've used out 401K to pay a majority of our bills."

"You pay social security, you into all these things and you expect something to come back," Larry explained. "That's just not the way it is. It's like pulling teeth to get anything."

Kim said that while Christmas hopefully would not be too different from years past, she has already warned the kids that there will be a major cutback in presents -- just the last of many cutbacks.

"I can't tell you the last time I've been to the mall," Kim said. "The kids' clothes, you're starting to look at second hand stores. Groceries even. You start looking at store brand food versus name brand."

"Our message to the next president I think would be that this country needs change," she said. "And I don't really care if it's Democrat or Republican, it just needs to be changed.... Rather than making this party agenda, let's make it a country agenda."

Defending the Homeland

To Veronica Harvey, a married mother of three, national security trumps all.

"I want to make sure that with the next president this world is a safe place for my family to live," Harvey said. "We are vulnerable. The United States is vulnerable to terrorist attacks."

Harvey, who said she would vote for John McCain, said that experience was paramount for the next president.

"If the next president lacks experience, I feel that they'll be tested by other countries," she said. "The terrorists hit us before. It wouldn't surprise me if we were attacked again."

Cutting Corners for College Dreams

Dori Martin, a Miami Dade public school teacher, worried that she will not be able to afford to send her daughter to college.

"I believe my daughter deserves the best education she can get," Martin told "Good Morning America." "Unfortunately, because of the economy, because of the things most people in this country are going through, I'm not sure I'll be able to do that."

More than saving for her daughter's college fund, Martin has had to take extreme measures just to stay afloat. She rents her house to strangers and has moved in with her mother in order to pool resources and share the rent.

"We have made a lot of changes in the household -- turning off the lights, not going out to eat, not have any frills, any extras," she said.

"Christmas this year will not be. We're probably going to celebrate, but minimally.... There's no room for waste."