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In rural Georgia, U.S. government shutdown gets mixed reception

By Steve Norder

ROME, Georgia (Reuters) - In the bustling, tree-lined business district of Rome, Georgia, deli owner Charlie Schroeder lauded Republican Representative Tom Graves this week for his pivotal role in shutting down the U.S. government for the first time in 17 years.

"It is like the sequester," said Schroeder, 64, referring to this year's deep cuts in government spending. "The administration made us think the world will end. As far as I can see, nothing was hurt. We need to do whatever we need to get rid of Obamacare."

The shutdown, a result of the standoff between Republicans and Democrats over President Barack Obama's controversial healthcare law, has sent as many as 1 million federal government workers home without pay, including many White House staff, and disrupted some services - including closing national parks, threatening to delay the publication of sensitive economic data, reducing research programs, and shuttering a flu monitoring program.

In Rome, a city of about 36,000 people in the northwest Georgia congressional district represented by Graves in his second full term, it has pretty much been business as usual this week. The federal courthouse and Social Security office were open; the only unusual closure was the local Internal Revenue Service office.

"There is nothing wrong with that," said Schroeder, smiling.

His views were shared by some - but not all - among about a dozen people contacted by Reuters this week on the streets and inside businesses in Graves' overwhelmingly Republican Southern district, more than 600 miles from Washington, D.C.

David Doss, a 58-year-old real estate developer who describes himself as a die-hard Republican, said Graves and his House colleagues went too far.

"It is irresponsible on the part of Congress to shut down the government and be unwilling to compromise on any issue," Doss said. "I certainly am disappointed in (Graves') involvement in this strategy."

Doss said he feared the tactics would hurt the Republican party in future elections.

A boots-wearing conservative from Ranger, Georgia, Graves is among a band of House Republicans who have sought to tie continued government funding to measures that would undermine Obama's signature Affordable Care Act.

He authored a plan backed by dozens of members to delay Obamacare reforms for a year. He also was one of eight House Republicans named by Speaker John Boehner to take part in formal negotiations with the Senate.

But any frustration with the partial shutdown of the government seems to carry little political risk for Graves on his home turf, where widespread distrust of Obamacare helped him get elected.

Residents of the small towns and rolling hills that make up the state's 14th Congressional District are mostly white and overwhelmingly Republican, according to U.S. Census and polling data.

Each of the last two Republican presidential candidates drew more than 70 percent of the district's vote, as did Graves in his re-election victory last fall.

The former state legislator was first elected to Congress in a special election in 2010 on a wave of support from the Tea Party movement and, along with fellow conservatives elected later that year, vowed to repeal the national healthcare reform law.

Indeed, Graves' strident stand against Obamacare will likely boost his standing with local constituents, said Merle Black, a politics professor at Emory University.

"He has solidified his hold on that district, whatever happens," Black said. "He's representing what his people want."

Of about a dozen calls from constituents to Graves' Washington office on Tuesday, the first day of the shutdown, most were supportive of the congressman's efforts, his office told Reuters.

In Rome, Georgia, City Manager John Bennett said the city could face problems if the shutdown dragged on.

The state uses federal money to maintain area highways, for instance, and the local housing authority also receives funds from the federal government, he said.

"There would be long-term consequences on the way we do business, primarily through the state," he said.

Chris McHaggee, owner of the Claremont House Bed & Breakfast, said he worried about a drop-off in business from government employees and retirees who will be without a paycheck.

Like others in Rome, he mostly took issue with the finger-pointing and lack of compromise among Congress members. In a statement on Tuesday, Graves blamed the ongoing shutdown on Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's refusal to negotiate.

Obama accused Republicans of shutting down the government over "an ideological crusade" against his healthcare law.

"Shutting down the government to prove a point is not what we send our elected officials to Washington for," said McHaggee, adding he was not affiliated with a political party and has voted for Democrats and Republicans in the past.

"It's like people taking their toys home kind of thing and not really solving the problems," he said.

(Additional reporting and writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Dina Kyriakidou and Lisa Shumaker)

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