The announcement that unemployment reached 10.1 percent nationally in September made hardly a ripple here. People in this factory town have known about double-digit unemployment for a long time.
"We don't have to be told we're on the rocks," says state Sen. Anthony (Buzz) Andrezeski, the Democratic House candidate in this district. "It's been a constant for two years."
Unemployment passed 10 percent here in January, 1981, four months after candidate Ronald Reagan came through promising jobs. Reagan's message struck a nerve with union workers. He won 49 percent of the vote in Pennsylvania's 21st district to Jimmy Carter's 43 percent.
Since then, perspectives have changed. Andrezeski says many of those voters are coming home to the Democrats this fall. "People here don't see less government," he says. "They see an economic standstill."
How do they know? The retiring Republican congressman told them so.
"The time has come to stop this massacre," Marc Lincoln Marks said in his swan song on the House floor last March, referring to Reagan's programs. "The time is now, to call out to thinking women and men everywhere to raise their voices against this murderous mandate."
All of which should make Andrezeski, 34, a safe bet. He is a former iron worker who likes to brag that he wrote his master's thesis "on a crane" -- on the job.
But while he is favored, he is not a sure winner, and the story of this race is a microcosm of the uncertainty surrounding the midterm elections.
"The Democrats are blaming the Republicans and the Republicans are blaming the Democrats--and everybody's confused," says Mayor Louis Tullio. "That's what I'm hearing. . . . The crisis I don't think is here right now."
Republican candidate Tom Ridge, 37, an Erie lawyer, is counting on this confusion to help him overcome Andrezeski's early lead. He is Harvard-educated, served as an infantry NCO in Vietnam and is a bulldog of a candidate.
He has benefited from the GOP's candidate finishing school and superior resources. He is attacking Andrezeski's legislative record in his ads and campaigning aggressively as a critic of both the "tax, tax, spend, spend" policies of the Democrats and some of President Reagan's programs.
"We've tried to make jobs a Republican issue," he says. "How we got here is not as important as how we get out of it."
Ridge says the key to the election is the voter "at the cutting edge who . . . is sophisticated enough to know it didn't happen under Ronald Reagan."
But it is an uphill fight. Standing along the parade route, cradling her grandson, is Eleanor Lewis. She voted for Reagan in 1980 and four months later lost her job. "If Ronald Reagan hasn't done it by this time, it's time we had a change," she says.
Democratic enthusiasm here is essential if Andrezeski is to offset the normal Republican vote elsewhere in the district. But if the turnout of less than 50 people for a recent candidate forum at an electrical workers' union hall here is indicative, many union voters are turned off by both parties.
And there is one other piece of history, which might be called the "Bonzo factor."
You remember Bonzo, the chimp who played opposite Ronald Reagan in the celebrated movie "Bedtime for Bonzo." What you may not know is that Erie is where Bonzo died.