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Edwards Brings Campaign to N.Y., Hoping To Stop Kerry Momentum

By James C. Mckinley Jr.

and Raymond Hernandez

The New York Times -- ALBANY, N.Y.

Sen. John Edwards brought his populist campaign Thursday to New York, a state that has become an unexpected battleground that may offer him a last-ditch opportunity to slow down Sen. John Kerry’s momentum and keep his own bid for the presidency alive.

Edwards landed in New York City and started the scramble for the state’s rich load of 236 delegates by declaring the economy was in a shambles, in no small part because of the avarice of multinational corporations.

“It is not good enough to serve the interests of shareholders and executives but sacrifice the needs of ordinary people who work for a living,” he declared at Columbia University on Thursday morning, sounding his standard promise on the urban campus to end a system of two Americas, divided by wealth and privilege.

In recent years, New York has not played a decisive role in Democratic presidential primaries, partly because its contest takes place late in the primary season. Not since 1988 has the state really mattered in the crucial delegate count buildup.

But, after Kerry’s string of victories across the nation, New York has taken on new significance, with Edwards saying he will focus his efforts to stop Kerry in New York, Ohio and Georgia.

“Who would have ever thought that the New York primary might make or break a candidate,” said Charles E. Schumer, New York’s senior senator.

On landing here, Edwards, a first-term Democratic senator from North Carolina, has stepped into a state known for its complicated and contradictory electoral politics. It is a state divided north and south, urban and suburban, with fault lines built around unions, race, religion and ethnicity. It has powerful fund-raisers who are sought out by candidates around the country and a vast media network that is both a curse and blessing to those who try to get their message across.

In sum, it has tripped up many homegrown candidates, not to mention those who come from places like North Carolina, or Massachusetts.

Edwards has vowed to campaign aggressively in upstate cities and in pockets of New York City’s outer boroughs where working-class people have lost jobs in recent years as more and more companies have moved their operations overseas, his aides say.

He plans to barnstorm the state for five days, appearing on three of those days in Buffalo, Albany and Rochester, areas that have been particularly hard hit by plant closings and may be more receptive to his message.

But it is far from certain that Edwards’ tactic of concentrating on voters in economically hard-pressed regions upstate will work, because most of the state’s Democratic primary voters come from New York City and its suburbs, political strategists say.

In the 2000 Democratic presidential primary, for example, upstate accounted for 30 percent of the statewide electorate, compared with about 53 percent in New York City and 17 percent in New York City’s suburbs -- Westchester, Rockland, Nassau and Suffolk counties. The 70-30 downstate-upstate ratio was consistent with previous primaries.

“The problem with the numbers is most of the voters in the primary are in the New York metropolitan area,” said Lee M. Miringoff, the director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. “So there is only so much you can get statewide by doing well upstate.”