No matter where candidates go in N.C., the economy's the issue

WASHINGTON - The Triangle's congressional districts aren't just about the big towns of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. The 13th Congressional District meanders to the northwestern tip of rural Rockingham County, while the 2nd District plunges into the southern sandhills of Sampson County. The 4th Congressional District is tucked in between.

Traveling across all or part of 18 Tar Heel counties, the Triangle's three members of Congress represent Army troops, college professors, scientists, farmers, assembly-line workers and the unemployed.

Yet wherever candidates go these days, they find voters talking about the same thing.

"The economy is the big issue," said Rep. Bob Etheridge, a Lillington Democrat representing the 2nd District. "They're feeling the brunt of it."

The Triangle's three Democratic incumbents -- U.S. Reps. David Price, Brad Miller and Etheridge -- all face challenges this year.

Their opponents, three Republicans and a Libertarian, have criticized the recent $700 billion government bailout of financial institutions. They say voters' angst about the economy means the incumbents ought to be replaced.

Candidates also have to try to explain to voters how one lawmaker among 435 members of Congress could influence the economy and the fortunes of struggling constituents back home.