PAINESVILLE, Ohio -- Among the family photos and to-do lists cluttering the bulletin board in Edith Rodriguez's office, the item she's most aware of each day is an image of the World Trade Center towers that she tacked up to evoke memories of Sept. 11.
She glanced at it as she explained why she was not bothered by the National Security Agency program of eavesdropping without warrants inside the United States.
"If that's going to help them not let 9/11 repeat itself, then I say, 100 percent, go for it, because that was awful," said Rodriguez.
Her views and those of many others in this key state help explain the strategy behind President Bush's aggressive drive to sell the public on what he calls his "terrorist surveillance program."
Today, the Senate will take up the hottest issue in the debate over the spy program: whether Bush's order to carry out the surveillance violated legal limits on the NSA's ability to eavesdrop in the United States without court approval.
Voters across the political spectrum said they have reservations about the president unilaterally deciding to spy domestically. But many are conflicted, saying they also believe that tracking down terrorists might be important enough to justify cutting a few corners.
To Rodriguez, an independent voter who cast her ballot for Bush, "it doesn't matter" whether the eavesdropping is legal.
"I look beyond whether it's right or wrong," said the 34-year-old insurance agent. "If it's going to catch some terrorist, then, hey - go ahead."
In conversations last week with more than 30 voters in this pivotal state, both supporters and opponents of the eavesdropping said they were unconcerned with whether it was legal. Many expressed the view that people who weren't doing anything wrong had nothing to fear from the program, and they were therefore inclined to support it.
The interviews in three swing counties in northeastern Ohio afforded a glimpse behind the national polls, which show voters split over the NSA program. They suggested that people are perplexed and that their views are fluid, with some expressing support and opposition in the same conversation.
There are strong critics of the NSA program among both Bush's supporters and detractors. Some said spying on suspected terrorists or their associates within the country is acceptable and even desirable, but that there was no excuse for the government's doing so without obtaining a warrant.
At Ace's Menswear on Market Street in Canton, Ace Gillems said he has broken with Bush, whom he supported in the last election, over the program.
"I believe in trying to protect the nation, but I think terrorism is always going to be with us, and if we start overstepping the bounds of the law, then where do we stop?" asked Gillems, 51, a Pentecostal preacher who said he backed Bush mostly for his Christian values.
"The law is there, yes, to stop crime and protect our safety, but it's also there to protect our rights," Gillems added.
Many of Bush's opponents accuse the president of exploiting anxiety over terrorism to run roughshod over people's rights.
"I don't trust him worth a lick," to decide whose communications should be monitored and whose should not, said Julia Zelner, 26, of East Lake. The idea that the program exists to track terrorists "is the only thing that makes it slightly OK," she said.
But Zelner added, "Where does it stop?" Bush has done "a lot in the name of terrorism. ... I'm just worried that he's playing too much on fear."
Even some who distrust Bush and have never supported him, however, said hunting down terrorists sometimes trumps their concern for civil liberties.
Donna Wolf, a 52-year-old union benefits administrator in Mentor, said she worried that the government sometimes overreached, such as when her Syrian-born cousin was temporarily denied entry to the United States after the Sept. 11 attacks, or when local police recently strip-searched two dozen high school girls while investigating a locker theft.
But there is a balance, said Wolf, a staunch Democrat.
"As long as it's reasonable and it's to protect the country, I think it's OK. If it's one more tool they have, why not let them use it?"
Bush can frame the issue for the public, given that security has proved to be a compelling justification for this president and his predecessors, and detailed arguments about civil liberties tend to "get into niceties that people don't much think about or understand," said John C. Green, a University of Akron political scientist.
The debate, Green said, comes down to a trade-off between values that Americans take very seriously: security and civil liberties. But "many people in Ohio and around the country will tend to prefer security over other issues. When push comes to shove, security tends to come more to the forefront."
While many voters say they value civil rights, analysts note, the issue generally does not rank among their top concerns.