Smith believes the Democratic Party approach is "socialistic," creating big government, with people becoming too dependent on "handouts."
"You look at the Kennedys, the Clintons, the Obamas, they always run their campaigns on volumes of people who will need government help," she says. "People make fun of the fact that Republicans have assets and want to run government like business."
Small business, she says, is self-reliant. "The buck stops with me," she says. "We don't have anybody else to look to for help. I wouldn't sit back and wait for somebody to bail me out. I'm not counting on Washington to bring me anything. I do it myself."
In the high-risk, high-reward world of farming, Randy Dreher doesn't measure his finances in four-year election cycles.
His fortunes revolve around crop prices, exports, and of course, the caprices of nature.
Despite a blistering drought this year, the fifth-generation Iowa farmer was left pretty much unscathed, the high crop prices offsetting his reduced crop. These are golden times in America's heartland, and as evidence, Dreher points to a record land sale in Audubon County, where he farms 200 acres.
Farm land recently was sold for a whopping $11,900 an acre. He says the buyer was a 75-year-old farmer.
"When you set a county record, there's got to be a lot of optimism," says Dreher, who grows corn and beans and raises pigs and cows on the same plot of land in west-central Iowa where his great-great grandfather settled more than 100 years ago.
Farm land values have skyrocketed across Iowa. In Dreher's county, for instance, in just a two-year span ending in 2011, an acre jumped from $4,537 to $7,240 — and the climb isn't over, according to Michael Duffy, an Iowa State University economist.
Dreher says agriculture is enjoying its best days since he was born in 1980.
"If you can't make it in farming now, you'll never make it in farming," he says. "If you can't make money, find something else to do."
And yet, he sees clouds in the larger economic picture.
"I think about the debt and Social Security and Medicare. Where all those dollars are going to come from is very alarming to me." Dreher says. "It's like going to the bank every day, knowing you're overextended and have to pay it back someday. ... We can't borrow ourselves into oblivion."
Dreher says he and his wife have saved more in recent years, but being prudent and conservative has its limits.
"You can be responsible and be making progress in your own little world, but there are outside factors you can't control," he says. "You prepare for the worst, but you can only do so much."
THE JOB HUNTER
For Linda Speaks, life in 2008 and now is a study in contrasts.
Four years ago, she had a steady job, a middle-class income and the comfort that comes with saving for retirement.
Today, she's in the middle of a long, frustrating search for work, her savings are gone and her unemployment benefits will soon expire.
When the tobacco company where she was an administrative assistant and events coordinator asked for retirement volunteers in late 2009, Speaks decided to leave. She figured it wouldn't be hard finding a job, considering her three-decade work history. Hundreds of resumes later, her search continues.
"At points, it's very depressing," she says. "It just invalidates 32 years of experience you thought would be of value to somebody at some point somewhere. ... I don't feel of worth to anyone."
At 57, Speaks wants to keep working. "I don't care to sit on the porch and rock my years away," she says. "I still have a lot to give. I'm organized and detail-oriented."
Speaks considered starting a small business in the Winston-Salem, N.C., area, and took some community college courses, but with the sagging economy, the timing seemed wrong. And with companies doing more with less, she says, "That leaves me on the outside. I can't get my foot in the door anywhere."
Speaks regularly attends meetings of Professionals in Transition, a support group for the jobless and underemployed.
Meanwhile, she and her husband, a mechanic, have tightened up their already frugal ways. No vacations, no big purchases — the 12-year-old car they want to replace will have to do for now. "We've never, ever lived beyond our means," she says, "but now we don't have the luxury of savings. We've used every bit of income my husband brings in. In four years we've not added to anything, we've not improved anything."
They've also assumed a new financial burden: Speaks' husband was recently diagnosed with cancer. Though he's insured, she says, their share of the bills for his medical treatment can easily mount into thousands of dollars.
Speaks doesn't think the economy is much better since the last presidential election but, she says, "I'm continually hopeful. I have a firm faith. I know I'll be taken care of. I just don't know what path I'll go down but I keep digging every day, every week."
For 14 months, Harvey Martin lived in belt-tightening mode. No new car, no travel, no bolstering his savings, no stock purchases.
The corporate pilot lost his job when the Birmingham, Ala., bank where he worked was sold, and the new owners closed the flight department in late 2010. Martin was 55, financially secure, not needing a new job, but definitely wanting one.
"When you lose a job through no fault of your own, it's some consolation," he says. "But that's not much help when you're going to the grocery store."
Friends and family urged him to take time off, but he soon was restless. "I didn't feel complete," he says. Martin signed up with an outplacement consulting firm, adjusting to a new environment where job searches involved LinkedIn and Facebook — unfamiliar territory for someone who hadn't looked for work in 17 years.
But it was at a decidedly low-tech lunch with friends that he heard scuttlebutt about a new company with two planes and one pilot. "I quickly did the math," he says. He applied, and was hired as a pilot for the auto advertising company.
Martin was thrilled to return to the cockpit this summer. "Talk about an office with a view," he says.
"Things are improving," he says, noting a jobless friend recently found work. "The recession that had been hanging over our heads — hopefully we've learned from that. ... No, things are not as good as they were four years ago when they were really rocking along. But the company is growing. My situation is good. I'm working again. It was just the luck of the draw."
Carole Delhorbe has a simple financial formula: Her two adult sons are better off, so she is, too.
Delhorbe says she could tell the economy was picking up when the two, one 32, the other 27, stopped asking her for money.
"There was a time when things were so tight for them ... as much money went out to door to pay their bills as if I had a mortgage," she says. "I knew they were never going to get anywhere if they didn't get any help."
But she noticed their calls tapered off last year and stopped this spring. Her older son's online toy and collectible business has improved, she says, and her younger son's Navy salary has increased.
As for herself, Delhorbe feels "a lot more secure" with Obama's health care program. She especially likes the provision that bans insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing illnesses.
Delhorbe, who lives in Ruskin, Fla., quit her job as a furniture refinisher more than two years ago because of health problems. She'd been paying her medical bills out of pocket and feared her arthritis and irregular heart beat would disqualify her from getting insurance.
"I'm so happy now that I don't have to worry about that," she says.
Delhorbe, a registered Republican who is an Obama supporter, also senses a more positive atmosphere. "The constant whining, moaning and complaining about the economy ... it's not like it was three or four years ago."
Homes in her neighborhood that had been foreclosed are now occupied, she says, and neighbors were out in their boats this summer after docking them for years.
"You knew when things were rotten: People wouldn't get together, they wouldn't have community parties. They just stopped," she says. "There was no fun for a few years. Now we're having get-togethers and we're starting to have some fun again."
Sharon Cohen is a Chicago-based national writer. She can be reached at scohen(at)ap.org.
EDITOR'S NOTE _ Another story in the occasional series, 'It's the Economy,' looking at a nation still struggling with hard times in an election year.