Where Has The Economy Gone?

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New Jersey is like the nation -- the economy here has hit the brakes. The state has lost 35,000 jobs in the past year and factories are hurting. So when voter Arlene Voll reads the headlines, she sees one critical issue in the election.

Voll+ tells CBS News Correspondent Anthony Mason, "I think the economy is the most important thing."

One of Voll's two sons was laid off last spring and she is understandably worried that her younger son remains jobless.

And she's not alone. In a CBS News/New York Times poll, the economy was the number one concern among New Jersey voters.

However, says Voll, "No one seems to be talking about that. That an awful lotta people cannot find jobs."

She's right. The economy is just a side issue in the New Jersey Senate race between Democrat Frank Lautenberg and Republican Doug Forrester:

While voters may be concerned about rising unemployment and the falling stock market, the surprise of this election has turned out to be: it's not about the economy.

One reason, says analyst Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report, Democrats haven't offered a clear alternative, like the "Contract with America" that rallied Republican candidates to power in 1994:

According to Walter, "There has not been a consistent message from the democrats about the economy where they were able to place the blame squarely on the shoulders of the president and his party."

In part, it's because the news is not all bad. Unemployment is still historically low and interest rates have never been lower, making mortgages much cheaper.

And other issues loom for many voters. Laura Sabrino, who works from home and cares for 5-year-old son, is more worried about Iraq than the economy.

Says Sabrino, "That's the important thing right now. And if I lose a few bucks in my 401k I'm willing to accept that. It will come back. It will come back. The economy will come back."

The economy may be a worry for many voters. It's just not the issue in this campaign.