Dowdy [second left] says the Iraq war is a crucial issue for him in the presidential race

As voting gets underway in Super Tuesday, one of the most crucial days in the US presidential nomination race, Al Jazeera spoke to two American families for whom the Iraq war remains a personal, as well as a political, priority.

Opinion polls in the US suggest the top issue for voters choosing Republican and Democratic candidates for the presidential election is now the economy.

Concerns about the war in Iraq have apparently been eclipsed by the slowdown in economic growth, spiralling health costs, and the subprime mortgage crisis.

But it is too simple to say that the issues of the military struggle in Iraq, and what George Bush, the US president, calls the "war or terror", have disappeared.

'Sacrifices made'

Super Tuesday

A total of 24 US states are holding primaries or caucuses on 5 Feb

It is the day when the largest number of nominating delegates for both Republicans and Democrats are up for grabs

52 per cent of Democratic delegates and 41 per cent of Republican delegates are at stake

Key states include California - with the most amount of delegates for a single state - Georgia, Illinois and New York

Started in 1988 after some southern US states decided to hold primaries simultaenously to boost southern influence in choosing a candidate

Wayne Dowdy for example, has returned from a year in Iraq for a month's leave with his family in Alabaster, Alabama, just a few days before Super Tuesday.

The combat medic, usually posted near the Iraqi town of Hillah, says he signed up for active duty in the US army so that his family could afford decent health care.

"We had gone for a couple of years without health coverage," he says, remembering his decision to join.

Dowdy says he was working as a private ambulance medic before, providing care to emergency patients of a quality he himself could not hope to pay for.

Serving in the US army - and braving the risks involved in fighting in Iraq - was the answer he found to his predicament, and to insuring his wife and three children.

"[In] the military, I will say, their benefits are great," he says.

"There are sacrifices that have to be made, but the benefits are real good."

Dowdy says the war is his big issue, but it is only because his economic situation felt so dire.

Coping with loss

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The war, not the economy, is certainly the number one issue for cancer nurse Marynell Winslow.

Her 19-year-old son Ryan was killed in Iraq after only three weeks' duty with the US marines.

She and her husband wear the "dogtag" necklace pendants all soldiers must carry to identify them. Theirs are engraved with Ryan's name.

The neighbours on their quiet street in Hoover, Alabama, have all put the US stars-and-stripes flags on their mailboxes, to share in their grief and pride.

"The most important issue to us in the election is the war on terror," she tells Al Jazeera.

"We think that is the most important issue facing our country. Our son thought his service to America in the war was so important that he gave his life.

But it is clearly not the loss of Ryan that makes her say that.

She and her husband say they are committed Republicans - "not rednecks", she adds - and they have the university education, knowledge of world events and fine home in a wealthy neighborhood to prove it.

Winslow admits the war in Iraq may be costing billions. But she says it is worth it.

"America will always be strong. We are the greatest country on the face of the earth, I absolutely believe that, and fighting a war isn't cheap."

Family concerns

My big issue was: Are they going to bring the troops home, are they going to end the war?

Back at the Dowdy's home, Wayne throws a football around with his three children who are ecstatic at having their father back home.

But he will be heading back to Iraq in a month, and his wife Darlene is worried.

She supports the war and so it is her number one issue as well. But not in the same way as it is for Mrs Winslow.

"My big issue was: Hey, are they going to bring the troops home, are they going to end the war, what are they going to do?'" she says.

"Is he going to come home before time or is he going to have to stay?"

So-called "number one issues" can come and go for US voters, according to surges in the war in Iraq, downturns in the economy, or a hundred different other issues.

But it is perhaps best not to over analyse what voters say they are most concerned about, when the big issues are related in such a way that world events hit home harder in the US than one may imagine.

Source: Al Jazeera