MITCH WEISSCHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) â¿¿ On the eve of the 2012 elections, The Associated Press interviewed dozens of Americans to try to gauge the economic mood of the nation. People were asked about jobs, housing, gas prices, retirement and other issues. Among them was Ray Arvin, 47, of Mineral Springs, N.C., outside Charlotte. Arvin has struggled financially since a business he owned that supplied the power and aviation industries collapsed in 2009. He worries about his future and about the direction of the federal government. ___ When Arvin isn't worrying about his own financial plight, he's fretting about the government's. He's troubled by gaping budget deficits and galled by what he calls lax leadership in Washington. What America needs, Arvin says, is to restore a spirit of individual self-reliance. And force the government to become leaner and more responsible. "I'm against that government-down approach â¿¿ spending without a thought of how we are going to balance the checkbook," Arvin says. He tries to live by his own words. When his company went bust three years ago, Arvin fell into unemployment for several months. He had blown through his savings â¿¿ more than $100,000 â¿¿ trying to save his business. He now works in sales for a company that sells supplies to power companies. His income has shrunk. Arvin's 2005 Chevy Suburban has 235,000 miles on it. When gas prices rise, his take-home pay drops. When the car breaks down, he fixes it himself to save money. "I've lost my retirement that I had built up," he says. "I'm having to start from scratch right now, looking at an economy and a government that is going to make my great-grandchildren pay the price for what they're doing." Political leaders in Washington leave him shaking his head. It isn't just President Barack Obama. Arvin opposes Obama. But he's also appalled by the actions of long-serving politicians.