From Dumfries to the White House: 2 Days to Go; Americans Will Go to the Polls on Tuesday to Decide One of the Tightest-Ever Presidential Elections and Broadcaster Stephen Jardine Followed the Descendants of the First Scots Pioneers to Find How They're Choosing between George W. Bush and Challenger John Kerry

Article excerpt

Byline: Stephen Jardine

LUNCHTIME in the Dumfries Cafe just off US Route 1. Cornbread-stuffed chicken is the special of the day and it is selling out fast. The joint is jumping with senior citizens, businessmen, marines from the nearby army base - and me.

Born in Dumfries, Scotland, I have travelled to Dumfries, Virginia, to test the mood of America on the eve of the most important US election in decades.

'I'm not happy,' says Bob Thomas, a middle-aged financial consultant.

'Bush made a huge error invading Iraq and now we're paying the price. If I made a big mistake at work, I'd lose my job.

'He should lose his.'

Sitting at the next table, beneath a photograph of the burning Twin Towers, Fred Henge listens and shakes his head.

The furniture salesman is taking a break from driving upstate and won't hear a word said against the President. He says: 'This is war and we've gotta back the Commander in Chief. Simple as that.'

Harold, the owner, sits by the cash register, as he has done every day for the last 14 years.

'People are talking about the election,' he tells me. 'Just like the whole country, I'd say the town is split pretty much 50/50 but I'm sticking with Bush.'

With men in army uniform taking up one long table in his restaurant, that's probably a pretty shrewd investment.

Once upon a time, Dumfries must have been a pretty place. It was founded in 1690 by a merchant from Scotland and a few of the old wooden houses remain. The rest have been bulldozed to make way for the four-lane highway.

I walk from the noise of the highway into a rundown trailer park full of people who have missed out on the American dream. The paint is peeling and rusty machinery litters the ground. Here, if anywhere, jobs and the struggling US economy should be the big issues.

No one is around to ask but, judging by the fluttering stars and stripes, even in this poor corner or town, patriotism and the war on terror dominate this election.

Despite its problems, no one is prouder of Dumfries than Mayor Mel Bray. He shows me his office, filled with souvenirs sent from Scotland and asks me lots of questions about my home town.

When the talk turns to the election, his mood changes. …