An Attorney General Bid Sets a Rare Focus Upstate

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The math is easy: As much as 70 percent of Democratic primary voters in New York State live south and east of Bear Mountain. Accordingly, the candidates in this year’s primary for attorney general have spent much of their time seeking votes in New York City and its suburbs.

But with just a week to go before the vote, an unlikely contest is heating up for the allegiance of upstate Democrats, long the overlooked stepchildren of primary elections.

Sean Coffey, a wealthy lawyer who is a former federal prosecutor, has in recent weeks saturated markets outside the New York City region with television advertising, doubling the amount spent by the next closest candidate, Kathleen M. Rice, the Nassau County district attorney. Since May, Mr. Coffey has spent at least a day or two each week campaigning upstate. And in debates he has made a point of highlighting the issue of high property taxes, an issue with limited relevance to the attorney general’s office but major importance to suburban and rural voters.

“I’m running to be the attorney general of the entire State of New York. Not Manhattan. Not Long Island,” Mr. Coffey said at a debate in Rochester last week, a shot at two rivals, State Senator Eric T. Schneiderman, who is from the Upper West Side, and Ms. Rice, neither of whom showed up for the event.

“I can’t win without upstate, and I know it,” Mr. Coffey said. The heavy investment by Mr. Coffey, a novice candidate, reflects a calculation that his most likely path to victory against more established contenders is to win by large margins upstate and place well in New York City’s suburbs. Westchester County is Mr. Coffey’s home base, but it is also home to another candidate, Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky of Greenburgh. In Nassau County, Ms. Rice is highly popular.

Mr. Coffey, who is from Bronxville, is also investing heavily to reach out to black and Latino voters, through targeted radio advertising, and to middle-class white voters in Queens and Brooklyn, who are widely seen as the swing vote in this year’s primary.

“We’ve actually looked at the history and know that behind every upset victory, upstate has loomed large,” said Bruce N. Gyory, a consultant to Mr. Coffey. “Our read of political history, in a statewide primary, you ignore upstate New York at your peril.”

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