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Rising from Ruin is an on-going MSNBC.com special report chronicling two coastal Mississippi towns, Bay St. Louis and Waveland, as they rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

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BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. – What election?

Control of Congress, the future of American involvement in Iraq and a host of other national issues may hang in the balance, but most voters have bigger fish to fry here along the Gulf Coast, thank you very much.

In a region that is still focused on digging out physically and emotionally from the costliest hurricane in U.S. history, there’s only room for one issue and her name is Katrina. With the exception of a few local races, politics are not on the radar screen. In interview after interview, voters said the Aug. 29, 2005, storm that took 1,836 lives in Louisiana and Mississippi, destroyed 220,000 homes and exacted more than $80 billion in damage still has their full attention.

“Down here, no one is unaffected by Katrina,” said insurance agent Andre Schwartz of Covington, La., taking a break from kite-boarding in the gulf along Beach Boulevard in Waveland, Miss. “My house was totaled. Both of the girls who work for me, their houses were totaled. My little sister’s house was totaled. It’s unbelievable and everything relates to that.”

Fellow Louisianan Rick Granger, who is trying to repair a second home he owns in Bay St. Louis, couldn’t agree more. “All our spare time has been spent trying to get this house up and running,” he said as he shopped for supplies at the new Lowe’s in Waveland.

This year, Mississippi ballots are long on local school board, chancery and circuit court races. U.S. Sen. Trent Lott faces re-election, as do all four of the state’s U.S. House members. But there are no races for statewide offices or issues.

Press exhorts voters

The local press is trying to stir interest. “Get out and vote!” the Sea Coast Echo exhorted readers with a giant headline in Saturday’s newspaper. And the South Mississippi Sun Herald, which won the Pulitzer Prize this year for its coverage of Katrina, presented readers with a special election primer, devoting most of its Page 1 on Sunday to Tuesday’s election.

Even so, “Truthfully, I just haven’t had time to focus” on the election, said Mark Heston of Kiln, Miss. Ditto for Emily Marquez of Henderson Point, Miss., who said only one judicial race had caught her eye. Same for Anthony Alexis of Bay St. Louis, John Salisbury of Long Beach, Miss., and a number of other voters surveyed by MSNBC in the days leading up to the election.

Local leaders agree the area is still preoccupied. “It’s still Katrina,” said Rep. Gene Taylor of Bay St. Louis. “That’s it,” agreed Mayor Tommy Longo of Waveland, who said the push to rebuild his city has kept him from campaigning much in his own re-election bid. “Nobody’s been paying attention to the national stuff,” said community activist Ellis Anderson of Bay St. Louis.

One exception is Teddy Baker of Bay St. Louis, who said that while the election is serious business to his family, it’s admittedly not a big topic of conversation. “I don’t know how important it is to everyone else, but it’s important to us,” he said as he waited to ride the new ferry to Pass Christian. Having seen the government’s response to Katrina, “It’s our chance to make a decision now and cast our ballots to try to change it for the way that we’d like to have it.”

Lott, Taylor expected to coast to victory

Widespread approval of how their own members of Congress helped Mississippi in the wake of the storm removes Katrina as a potential point of political contention in those races. Sen. Lott, a Republican, and Rep. Taylor, a Democrat, are both expected to coast to easy victories over their opponents.

With 50 years in Congress between them -- Lott’s leadership experience in the Senate and Taylor’s connections from his tenure on the Armed Services Committee -- the two were instrumental in passage of billions in federal aid programs for the state and rapid deployment of military resources such as hospital ships to the storm-stricken region.

While the war in Iraq has become the hottest political topic at coffee shops and water coolers elsewhere around the country, it isn't much discussed here. When prompted for their views, however, voters appear split along lines similar to those revealed in the latest national polls between staying the course and plotting an exit strategy from Iraq.

“We’ve been over there longer than we were in World War II,” said Fred Butterfield of Waveland. “Think about it. It’s ridiculous.”

“We all think, ‘Why don’t they spend that money here?’” said Schwartz. “Why are they spending it in Iraq?”

“We want the troops home,” said Marquez. “That’s basically all I hear people saying.”

War may be bigger issue next election

Marquez and others said how the war plays out in the next few months – Taylor believes another big National Guard and reserve call-up could come as soon as the election is over – will make 2008 and its presidential contest much more interesting. Even in Mississippi, which President Bush carried 59 percent of the votes in 2004 and 58 percent in 2000, there’s a growing sentiment that democracy cannot be simply exported to a place like Iraq. Nearly a third of Taylor’s town hall meeting in Long Beach last week covered war issues.

Meanwhile, voters in Waveland are treating their municipal election like a mini-referendum on the handling of post-Katrina issues. Mayor Tommy Longo is facing a stiff challenge from two fellow Democrats in the primary. Two Republicans and an independent are also seeking the office.

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152 COMMENTS

THE REPUBLICANS HAVE HAD THERE CHANCE.
THE COUNTRY IS IN MASSIVE DEBT.
THE ENVIORNMENT IS IN SHAMBLES
IRAQ IS IN SHAMBLES
NEW ORLEANS IS IN SHAMBLES
THE ONLY WAY TO CHANGE THE COUNTRY IS TO CHANGE CONGRESS!!!!

It doesn't matter who's in charge-the bigger issue needs to be addressed and that is: Will this country turn back to the foundation that this country was built on, which is the foundation of the Bible. Man will deceive you, no matter what party they are from. But if you are right with God, you can get through anything. The greatest strength this country has is our faith in God, and our willingness to help each other, no matter what our local medias like to portray. I don't know how, I don't know when, but I do know that after all this country's been through in years past, we can make it and we can all do one thing no matter what party we vote for-we can all pray.

The economy is looking up, gas prices are down, US soldiers say that we should not pull out of Iraq
(news story on msnbc yesterday). The progress there is most important. No new terror attacks in the US. It is better to fight the enemy in the middle east than to have to fight them here in the US. Vote like your life depends on it, because it does!

I live in Mississippi. I am aware of the national news and elections. I am sick of the election. We have so much work to finish in Mississippi. The good thing for us is that we have good people who work for us in DC. This will be the first election in which I do not vote. I am awaiting return to my town and do not feel I should vote in an area where I shall not be remaining for long. If I am living, I shall vote in 2008 without fail. I just have too much going on this year.

Well, if LA keeps their Republican Senators and Congressmen, let's see what happens to them when the next hurricane hits. They'll either learn or keep watching their children get swept away in floods.

M.E.: New Orleans was under water. The Mississippi Coast has disappeared.

As a Long Beach resident who was in his house during the storm and was lucky enough to survive it's easy to understand why Gulf Coast residents are not interested in the politics of elections these days. Having repaired and then sold my home I now live in my home state of Arizona and a day does not go by that I don't think of those days during and after the storm. I must say that the governments handling of the aftermath of the storm and the disaster in Iraq will have a profound affect on my voting in 2008.

Conservatives like me are tickled pink by the fact that those people aren't going to turn out to vote. Less votes for Liberals! Makes Bush's "neglect" look smart now, doesn't it!

I SO agree. I ended up having to re-locate due to the fact that the landlord that we had in Kenner, LA was going to try to charge us rent on an apartment that was un-livable. There has been nothing done except sending young people to get blown apart for the past few years. It is time for a change, hopefully, most people will wake up and vote to change Congress and the rest of the government. REMEMBER: they are public servants, in truth, they answer to US!

Great idea Weeks, turn the control over to the Democraps who have no plan, but are wonderful at bash-bash politics. Sounds like you're anti-establishment anyway, unless it's for that welfare hand out, then it's "Me first!"

I could not agree more. This country is nothing but a shadow of it's former self. Our rights and freedoms are slowly, seemingly unnoticed slipping away. Our reputation forever tarnished, our finances and economy in awful shape, our men and children dying for god knows what, and in the meantime they are stuffing their pockets.
Go out and exercise your right to vote. If you dont, it might be the last time you'll have a chance to vote. They might just declare voting "unpatriotic" next. Complacency is dangerous, once freedom is lost it is difficult to regain.

Oh, Your right! Lets just dump Iraq and leave them in shambles so that they will have civil war problems that can bleed over onto us and be blamed on us. We have to stay until it is more stable there. They need help, we started it so we need to help. And the government didn't cause Katrina! When ANYONE has their house destroyed be an act of God we all have to use our insurance to fix the problem, use relatives to live with until we have a place to live or live in apartments. What do you think happened to the people in Oklahoma when a tornado tore up miles of houses and killed hundreds? The government didn't house them all and fix everything for them. Do you think the one or two houses and families that had their lives uprooted when a tornado ripped through their houses in Indiana got National Guard troops helping them? Do you think they were any less devastated then any of you are? Weather or not it is one house or a thousand homes and families, each person feels lost and uprooted but they don't blame the government! You people had way more help in that region than Florida has EVER had in all the times they have been hit. You just don't realize that most of the putting their lives back together is on them! We all feel for you as we would anyone who has lost their home, but I don't think I feel too sorry for those that have been through this before and still live on the coast. Your just asking for it again in the future! It will happen again!

As far as the Republicans having their chance, the country is in massive debt because there are too many hand outs to people on welfare,who continue to have children instead of one knowing when to stop,then they could get out and get a JOB so the (in debt) government could start helping those for whom mother nature has taken it's toll on. That is where the government needs to start getting out of debt!!

The war in Iraq is the big gorilla in this mid-term election. Let's not over-react and put liberals in charge who can damage our home front in the next few years. Who's going to be in charge of Congress and its committees is important, but there are no easy answers as the ones newly elected today will soon see.

This year's campaigning has been disgusting. So little talk of what to do and plans and more talk than ever about what a bad person some candidate's opponent is. We talk about the Iraq war as a waste of money that could be spent here at home (and it is) - what about the millions pouring into campaigns to fund these trash ads when they should be funding Americans in trouble, like those in the Gulf Region and the poverty-stricken across the country.

Changing Congress will not change the country. Anyone can complain about things and demand change but what plan do the Democrats have? All they have done is whine about the Republicans. Where is their plan?!?

As a New Orleanian evacuee still displaced, I am glad that somebody understands that it is hard to worry about voting when you don't know where your next meal is coming from. This election is indeed important, the bungled response to Katrina, the Iraq war and a host of other recent situations have shown that the Republicans don't care about anything other than themselves, and those that will make them money..

Hopefully, the rest of the country will make a change today and finally bring intelligence back to governing.

I think that, you can not blame the environement on republicans. IT has been an ongoing problem for years, and we are just now realizing how drastic the consequences are.

As far as the debt goes, the National Defficit has decreesed by almost 50%.

The war in Iraq is a touchy subject however. It is hard to say how things will go.

As far as New Orleans and all the other stated that were aflicted by Katrina, I think that the republican did not send the storm into those areas. These Levies were built a very long time ago, and they did not have propper foundations to support them. Also, how many people have hindered the healing process with insurance fraud. I have seen so many articles about insurance fraud by people.

I think the problem in our country is we are always pointing and blaming a political party for every wrong. I think these parties need to learn to work more cooperatively together. We are suppose to be the "UNITED" States of America. Lately it seems like we are the run your neighbor through the mud to get ahead America.

Are you better off than you were 6 years ago? I'm not!

My first trip back to NOLA 2 weeks ago, since last years Katrina. The entire area looked as if the Hurricane had happened the day before we arrived! Incredible. Until you see it, you can't comprehend it. Watching and listening to the bias, right-wing media mouthpieces for the Republicans, will not give you a clue of the destruction and Republican run governments non-response. PITIFUL!

I feel obligated to vote AGAINST the current Republican Disaster in washington rather than vote For the candidate Ifeel is best qualified for the office. A pretty sad state of affairs

Robert Tulett
Buffalo,NY

REPUBLICANS HAVE CERTAINLY MADE THEIR MARK.
-GLOBAL WARMING IS THREATENING THE STABILITY OF LIFE.
-HEALTH CARE COSTS ARE UNAFFORDABLE TO MILLIONS.
-"NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND" IS HAVING THE OPPOSITE EFFECT.
-RESPONSE TO HUMANITARIAN NEEDS (KATRINA, TSUNAMI, AIDS VICTEMS, GENOCIDES IN AFRICA) IS SLOW/NON-EXISTANT.
-COLLEGE AID IS DRASTICALLY CUT BACK.
-MIDDLE CLASS IS BEING BANKRUPT.
-"CONSERVATIVES" ARE PREACHING ONE THING WHILE DOING ANOTHER.
-WORLD TRADE CENTER MEMORIAL IS STILL NOT COMPLETED.
-FEDERAL GASOLINE TAXES COULD HAVE BEEN LOWERED TO EASE INCREASED PRICES.
-OUR BILL OF RIGHTS HAS BEEN UNDERMINED, FOR OUR "PROTECTION AND NATIONAL SECURITY".
-THE WORLD IS MORE WAR-RIDDEN AND POVERTY-STRICKEN.
-LACK OF IMMIGRATION CONTROLS THREATENS OUR NATIONAL SECURITY AND STRAINS OUR SOCIAL BENEFITS NET.
-WEEKLY POLITICAL SCANDALS.

The Gulf Coast residents need to elect all new local politians. George Bush and the Republican congress has done everything it could on a national scale. Local politicians need to act not blame, residents need to vote not watch!

We all need to be prepared for emergencies in our lives. The government's (FEMA) job is to have a plan for most widescale emergencies so that society does not become uncivilized during the emergency. Mankind has and will reduce itself to basic instincts when there are no other apparent choices. That said, I think it is deplorable that this country has allowed people to, once again, believe it is okay to be mean, selfish, and basically a--holes. Blame that on this administration and Congress. The conservatives have THE voice in government right now and their breath stinks! Hopefully, enough people are tired of it all and will get off their butts and vote. Unfortunately, the people most affected by the government policies (minorities) won't take the time to do what our parents and older siblings literally died for.....VOTE!

in response to a point made by Richard Gaffron above, dont get too excited about the fact there hasnt been a terrorist attack - the first WTC attack was in 1993, the second attack on the WTC was in 2001 - thats 8 yrs between attacks - its only been 5 yrs since the last attack.

granted we cant pull out of Iraq now, we made such a mess there we (USA) and them (iraqi) are both in a worse situation now - but dont get carried away with the troops not saying anything different when interviewed, they cant\wouldn't say anything public ally.

the Katrina issue - lets not forget the Levees and Flood maps (that determine who carries flood insurance) were federal built, created, maintained - they failed, which caused the flooding, if the levee's held Katrina would have been a lesser event for NO. though still a tragedy for our Mississippi friends, should the Fed then walk away, with a sorry we cost you people your homes and all your stuff? is that what others around the nation would do if a third party cost them everything they own?
- and we dont even need to get into what insurance companies are getting away with.

we have alot of issues domestically and abroad, the economy is good for some, but in my case ive lost ground over the last 6 yrs, and i work more hours than before. - until we get our federal gov. to regain interest in the American people and the areas where they live and the schools that educate their children we are going to continue downward - the elections this time around seem to be about Iraq and Sex between partners of the same gender, and i dont mean the Gay Marriage debate, i mean our self righteous politicians that want to legislate morality except when it applies to each other

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