Former Bank of America chief, Hugh McColl gives to Myrick's opponent in N.C.

Hugh McColl Jr. thinks the failure of Congress to move more quickly on the Wall Street bailout likely made the difference between Wachovia surviving as a stand-alone bank and succumbing to a sale to Wells Fargo.

So a few days ago, the former Bank of America chief wrote a $1,000 check to Democratic congressional candidate Harry Taylor, who's running against U.S. Rep Sue Myrick. Myrick, a Republican from Charlotte, first voted against the $700 billion legislation pushed by the Bush administration to help free up the credit market. A few days later, she backed another version.

"Arguably, she's a slow learner," griped McColl, who admits he's "unabashedly a Democrat." "Time was of the essence, and we dilly dallied."

Myrick, who lives in the largely GOP 9th Congressional District, which few think is vulnerable on Nov. 4, says she's had to defend those decisions a lot lately as she campaigns for an eighth term. After all, she lives in an area with an estimated 20,000 Wachovia employees and many stockholders.

"People really get their frustrations out, that's why I do it," she says. "There are all the emotions you can think of right now. We were hit especially hard with gas shortages, Wachovia and then all the credit crisis stuff… For most people, when I explain to them why I did what I did, they understand, so that's been good."

Myrick released her first television ad on Friday, acknowledging the crisis: "I naturally want to make this economic mess all better, but I will not make you hollow promises."

After eight years with a GOP-controlled White House, the economy in trouble and record-high gas prices, Republicans are on defense this year.

The 9th District, which includes parts of Mecklenburg, Gaston and Union counties, seems an unlikely seat for Democrats to win. Forty-three percent of voters are Republicans, 34 percent are Democrats, and the rest unaffiliated. Myrick, who was mayor of Charlotte before 14 years in Congress, typically wins with room to spare. In 2006, she got 67 percent of the vote. Myrick's GOP support is solid, but she also picks up Democrats like Pat Carpenter, who stood in line for early voting with a walker. The Charlotte retiree says she's tired of the war, and worried about her retirement savings being tied up in volatile investments.

Though she's torn about her presidential vote, Carpenter has no reservations about Myrick.

"She thinks about Charlotte and what's good for the constituents here," Carpenter says.

Myrick's challenger

What raises the profile of this race is a moment back in 2006 when Taylor castigated Bush at an appearance at Central Piedmont Community College, saying, "I would hope from time to time that you have the humility and the grace to be ashamed of yourself."

The nationally broadcast remark, which Taylor mails to potential donors on a DVD, has helped him raise money – $173,000 as of Sept. 30, still short of Myrick's $1.1 million.

Charlotte architect Sandy Turnbull says Taylor's willingness to take on Bush was enough to win her vote. But she adds, "I don't think he'll win."

Taylor seems undeterred that history and demographics seem stacked against him, insisting that people's hunger for change will be reflected in their congressional choice. Members of Congress, the commercial real estate broker from Charlotte says, should "go into the ring with people who don't believe what you believe and come out with a decision to move this country and this world forward."

Myrick highlights her constituent service, but Taylor says that doesn't matter if "you vote against children's health care and you vote against jobs and you vote against clean energy, you vote for war – the whole world comes unglued with that kind of lack of leadership." On Monday, former NASCAR general manager H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler plans to announce his endorsement of Taylor.

Taylor supporter Art Hammerstrom of Charlotte, who works part time in retirement, says Myrick has a "real misplaced priority" in spending so much time fighting illegal immigration, which with anti-terrorism efforts and cancer research are among her signature issues. She helped bring an immigration court to Charlotte, which opens on Election Day.

Barbara Albright, who lives in Waxhaw and works for a Bible translation company, disagrees that Myrick has over-emphasized immigration.

"It's important for Sue Myrick to be able to represent what's legal and lawful," she says. "We like that there are people from … different countries here, and we think it's important for those people to come here legally."

'Principles I stand on'

Myrick says she works across the aisle quietly, but stands firm on other issues.

"I have strong principles I stand on," says Myrick, who got a lot of national attention for saying "hell, no" to Bush over sale of a company that operated U.S. ports to a state-owned firm from the United Arab Emirates.

To a Mecklenburg GOP women's group at a seafood restaurant, Myrick doesn't mention immigration until the question period. Instead, she talks about what she hopes to accomplish on the credit crisis, energy, the federal budget, and what she calls the "third rail of politics," Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

"We can't continue to do what we have been doing as a government," she says. "You can't afford it."