LaReeca Rucker has been a journalist for more than 20 years, and her work has appeared in newspapers across the nation. She spent a decade as a features writer and multimedia journalist with The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, where she was also a USA TODAY contributor. She is a freelance journalist and support journalism instructor in the University of Mississippi's Meek School of Journalism and New Media in Oxford, Mississippi.

Average Joes: Voters share basic concerns

LaReeca Rucker
The Clarion-Ledger

They've painted themselves as regular citizens to appeal to the common voter.

Barack Obama isn't an Ivy League elitist; he's just a guy from Chicago's South Side.

John McCain's not a Fortunate Son; he's just your everyday maverick bent on holding Washington insiders accountable for the little people.

Forget that pricey wardrobe. Sarah Palin's just a lady from Wasilla Main Street who shops at consignment stores. 

And Joe Biden - he's your average Joe from Scranton. They all want you to know they're regular people, and who will be the best president for the "average Joe" was a critical topic in the last presidential debate when "Joe the Plumber" was thrust into the spotlight.

With that in mind, we asked several Mississippi Joes about the election and what issues they believe are most important. 

Jackson resident Joseph "Joey" Powell Jr., 28, an electronics store employee, said the 2008 presidential election has been exciting, interesting and unpredictable.

"As the day comes, I'm starting to get more and more excited just wondering what is going to happen," he said.

Powell - the father of Joseph Powell III, 4, and Isaiah Powell, 2 - said health care is an important issue."I want to make sure my sons are taken care of," he said. "There have been times that I have been without employment and had to purchase my own insurance."

Powell, who attended Hinds Community College and graduated from Belhaven with a degree in business administration, said the next president also should be concerned about education.

"Science and math classes are important," he said. "What are we going to do to get our kids involved and make sure they are properly educated in those (fields) so we won't be sending that work overseas?"

He said it's also time to concentrate on developing alternate energy sources. "For the longest time, we've been told we need more cost-efficient and cleaner forms of energy," he said. "We need to take that ball and run with it."

Powell said the economy is on the minds of most, and he hopes his peers are financially preparing for the future. "I understand that it's important to have a 401K and those kinds of savings," he said, "but you have a lot of people who don't. When it's time to retire, Social Security won't be there for them, so what are the candidates going to do to make sure we are stretching the economy so we can actually have something of our own? My generation is having to pick up wherethey left off. I just hope we don't make the same mistakes."

Jackson resident Jo Gibbons, an emergency services worker and recent Mississippi transplant, has felt somewhat apathetic about the 2008 election since Hillary Clinton isn't part of the picture.

"When my candidate didn't get the nomination, I wasn't so passionate anymore," she said. "I'm going to vote for Barack Obama by default. I think he would be a great leader, I just don't know if he's going to get the opportunity to lead because of who he is. I think he's going to get bogged down in the politics of race and creed and will have to deal with it to the point that he won't get the job done."

Gibbons said she hopes the next president will focus on issues like environmentalism and eliminating foreign oil dependency, and she hopes voters will not focus on issues like gay marriage.

"I'm a very liberal person, so when my rights diminish, I take that very seriously, and I don't think laws should be made for everything," she said. "People need to look at the bigger picture and understand that when you take away someone else's rights, you are taking away your own."

Pearl resident Joann Vincent, 44, a legal secretary, said the future of Social Security and Medicaid are the biggest issues of the 2008 election. "I'm afraid there won't be anything there if we keep borrowing," she said.

Education is also important to Vincent, who feels blessed to send her children to good schools. "My husband and I have two great schools that our children go to, but we have some schools in this state that are just pitiful," she said. "It should be equal."

Vincent said illegal immigration is another issue candidates should be discussing. She feels those who enter the country should follow the proper procedure, and she said the "average Joe" wants a president who knows Americans are financially struggling.

"At church, we just prayed for so many people who have lost their jobs, and we want someone in there who is going to understand that," she said.

Vincent, who calls herself a "rookie Christian," also hopes voters will keep God in mind at the polls. "I got baptized June 1, and I wish one of them could tell me that they would bring God into government or school," she said. "I think it's something we all need to pray about, because, I tell you, we have a mess. No matter what people's beliefs are, no matter who they choose, I do have faith that we will get the right person."

Brandon resident Jodie Cummings, 29, is a history instructor who has enjoyed watching her students become interested in the political process.

"Barack Obama has been an amazing phenomenon," she said. "It's almost like he's a rock star. One of my students was literally trembling because she had been in the same room with him. This is the way people would react when I was a kid if they had met Brad Pitt."

Cummings believes Americans are ready for change. "I'm really excited to see that people are ready to break this power grip that's been in Washington the last 25 years or so," she said. "I grew up in the South, and most of the people who influenced me were pretty conservative. It was pretty clear-cut when I was voting in elections in the past, and now I think people who have held those traditional conservative values are realizing there's a bigger picture to this.

Cummings said the average American wants a president who'll shake up Washington and keep it real. "They want to vote for the guy who isn't in the pocket of Exxon Mobil or Halliburton," she said. "They want a guy who's going to stand up to his party, stand up to big corporations and stand up to special interest groups.

"I think pretty much all you have to do is look at the way both candidates are running their campaigns. Barack is the one who wants change. McCain is the maverick. Both of these guys are pretty much telling us the same thing - I'm not the guy who was running for election in 2000 or 2004. I'm somebody different."

Cummings said "being average" has a whole new meaning for her generation. What once distinguished you from the crowd is no longer impressive enough to help land a top job, and as a result, the job market has become much more competitive and challenging.

"I think most of us that are of a younger generation realize that the things our parents' generation was promised - if you do well in school, if you get a job and work hard, everything will go OK for you - are not necessarily true anymore.

"We were told, get your degree and you'll have 25 people knocking at your door. You get that same degree today, and you have to wait tables. You have people now who have a college degree, and they have no idea how they're going to put their kids through school."

Cummings, who is working on her doctorate, said she hopes Mississippians will cast an informative vote. "I tell my students it's always important when you vote to analyze all the issues and come to the conclusion yourself," she said. "Don't just vote because someone is a member of a particular party or because your neighbors are voting for that person.

"I understand that your parents have lived a lot of life and are wise, but you have to make your own decision. You'll have to explain to your children and grandchildren why you voted the way you did."


The Journalism Portfolio of LaReeca Rucker