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Opinions in Small West Virginia Town Reflect National Divisions on Iraq War


In the past few weeks, President Bush has given several speeches and a news conference trying to shore up support for the Iraq war. And the latest polls indicate approval of the President's handling of the war has jumped 10 percent, to 46 percent of those polled. Places like Elizabeth West Virginia, a small conservative town in the rural Midwest that voted for the president in the last election, reflect the division on the war.

A typical morning at the Mustang Survival Gear factory in Elizabeth, West Virginia. Mustang Survival makes a variety of cold-water gear for the U.S. Coast Guard and Navy. The company has lost business as government funds have been diverted for Iraq war needs. But most of Mustang's workers support President Bush and the Iraq war.

Greg Stover is the plant manager. "When this broke out our workforce totally supported it. In fact, we were supplying some of the products that were being used at the time. And we have one of the most dedicated, patriotic groups of people that we have seen. Especially when one of the members of our community was captured," he told us.

That captured community member was Private Jessica Lynch. After her dramatic rescue, she returned home to a hero's parade and ceremony.

Elizabeth is a small rural community where traditional American values, patriotism, and support for the Iraq war run strong. Wirt County's voters are mostly supporters of the Democratic Party, but President Bush won overwhelmingly here in the last election.

Greg Thorn, part owner of the local grocery store, voted for the Democratic Party presidential candidate, John Kerry, but believes strongly that Iraq is a critical part of the war on terror and backs the President on it.

"Are there things that could have been done differently over the two and a half or three year period? Probably so,” he says, answering his own question. “But all in all I have been in support of the way he has handled things."

But as the war has dragged on, some in the community are beginning to change their minds.

Ken Stempowski is the Mayor of Elizabeth. "Oh yes, my attitude has started to change for sure,” he says. “I think we need to get our guys out of there. I haven't been listening to the news a hundred percent all of the time, but [what] I did hear last night, I think, was ‘four more killed.’ And, what is the sense of that anymore? It is just senseless. We need to get out."

President Bush hopes to regain the confidence of supporters like the people of Elizabeth.

The mayor added, "I would say that they are probably paying attention. The other thing is that if he is doing that many speeches and that many interviews as he has been, I would say he is very concerned about what is going on and he is seeing the voice of the people trying to tell him to do something. And he is concerned with it and he needs to do something. He needs to listen to us, that's all."

In Elizabeth there are some who will never change their minds. At Roberts General Store, a family-run business for 120 years, the war has been weighing heavily on 80-year-old James Roberts. He fought in World War II at the age of 17, but thinks the Iraq war was unnecessary from the start.

"Bush has kind of moved our frontier from New York to Iraq, but it really wasn't necessary," said Mr. Roberts.

According to recent polls, a majority of Americans think the Iraq war was not worth fighting. But, at the same time, most Americans oppose an immediate withdrawal. The president's approval ratings have risen since he began giving regular speeches on the war. But even in conservative patriotic small towns like Elizabeth, the war has become a tougher sell.

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