New York City has lost 240,000 jobs since 2000, homelessness stands at 40,000, and in many outer-borough communities -- if not in Manhattan -- the sense is of a city frayed around the edges.
The problems deepen upstate. Sitting on the shores of Lake Erie, Buffalo has lost tens of thousands of jobs, and a financial control board controls its finances. Moving east, along the southern rim of Lake Ontario, one comes to Rochester, which is bleeding thousands of jobs. The city's economic mainstays, Eastman Kodak Co. and Xerox Corp., have announced a series of large layoffs.
Unemployment, in New York City and state, is higher than the national average. The labor-funded Fiscal Policy Institute recently conducted a study and found that the state has experienced a pronounced shift from high-paying to low-paying jobs. The new jobs pay 38 percent less, on average, than the old ones.
For these reasons, Edwards believes he has found a receptive audience as he journeys across the expanse of Upstate New York, plunging into union halls and predominantly Catholic suburbs.
"He talks about health care and jobs, which are the number one and number two issues upstate, which is in very rough shape," said Albany Mayor Gerald D. Jennings, who has endorsed Edwards. "That's the message that will let us beat Bush."
Edwards's populist message, however, seems unlikely to resonate as loudly downstate, where 70 percent of the Democratic electorate lives.
The downstate economy is closely tied to finance and service industries, which in turn rise and fall with the global economy. New York City's manufacturing core, while still considerable, is a shadow of its former self. (Ironically, New York long ago lost many textile firms to the Carolinas, whose mills in turn have been supplanted by cheaper operations in Central America and Asia).
"This is now a city of great consumers, not producers," said Moss of New York University. "Edwards's message would have resonated better with the New York voter of 50 years ago."
That said, Edwards and Kerry had little trouble searching out enthusiastic crowds at several recent downstate rallies. Last Saturday morning at Hofstra University on Long Island, Edwards talked in his candied Carolina accent of an economy geared toward the wealthy and against the poor. A large crowd of mostly middle-class, mostly white suburbanites bounced and cheered.
Mark Masin, 52, a defense contractor from Rockville Centre, N.Y., voted for Bush last time but he said he has seen the economy only get worse. "They say we're in a recovery, but it doesn't feel like it," he said. "My daughter has moved into New York City, and she's paying three-quarters of her income just for the rent."
He favors Edwards, as he believes the North Carolinian can best appeal to moderate voters. But Masin doesn't want to hear any of that New York primary vitriol.
"I don't want them to tear into each other. I just want to hear an alternative to Bush."