NEW YORK—When Zephyr Teachout first started campaigning, she often introduced herself with a pre-emptive explanation of her name.
“Teachout is not a made-up name,” she said at a campaign stop in July. “People often wonder if I’m a train, or an app, or a man.”
First treated as an eccentric protest candidate in the Democratic Gubernatorial Primary, Teachout has proved to be a real thorn to incumbent Gov. Cuomo, who has tried repeatedly, and unsuccessfully, to throw Teachout off the ballot with technicalities.
Last week a lawyer for Cuomo’s campaign vowed to appeal a decision by the state Supreme Court in Brooklyn, which determined that Teachout met the 5-year residency requirement for those running for governor.
“I take nothing for granted, I work very hard,” Cuomo said last week, when asked about the gubernatorial election.
Despite a recent Siena poll showing that 91 percent of Democratic voters have never heard about or have no opinion of her, the long shot candidate’s campaign hasn’t slowed down.
On August 14th, the campaign raised $50,000 in under 24 hours with help from Larry Lessig’s Mayday (crowdfunded) Super PAC, nabbed the endorsement of the 55,000-member strong Public Employees Federation, and released its first online ad.
Near the start of the campaign in June, she said that her campaign was “really efficient,” but she would need to get the press’s help to gain real traction in the primary.
And the press has obliged. She’s been endorsed by the editorial board of the New York Times, which also published a glowing profile of Teachout at the start of the month—and her legal battles with the Cuomo campaign have only put more of a spotlight on her candidacy.
Teachout’s supporters and campaign staffers point out that because the turnout in the primaries is often so low, the race could still be competitive.
Whatever the primary’s outcome, the Teachout candidacy has exposed the vulnerabilities a governor faces when using the governorship as a presidential stepping-stone.
“[Cuomo] is trying to position himself for a national office and he feels that the best way to do that is to be a fiscal conservative and a social liberal,” said former New York State Assemblyman Richard Brodsky.
Indeed, Cuomo has worn his fiscal conservatism on his sleeves. In his first interview after his trip from Israel, he said the one thing that he wanted voters to remember was the fiscal discipline he brought to the state.
“I’m eager to go through the record of accomplishment we had in this state; we turned it around dramatically from a financial point of view,” Cuomo told Fox News’s Maria Bartiromo.
It is Cuomo’s spending cuts that Teachout has seized on again and again, and never misses a chance to point out that Cuomo once proposed “the largest cut to schools in state history.”
The biggest threat to Cuomo’s political career may not be Teachout at all, but her running-mate Tim Wu, who has stated he will run with Cuomo in the general election if he beats Cuomo’s running mate Kathy Hochul in the primary.
Like Wu, Hochul is a relative unknown in New York, and her popularity has not been tested in the polls.
Wu has vowed to play the role of the “public advocate” if elected lieutenant governor with Cuomo, using the office as a “bully pulpit” to criticize the governor’s failings.
The governor’s image has already taken a blow with allegations of his office interfering with the anti-corruption Moreland Commission, which Cuomo dissolved in March, and it’s unlikely he can bear working with a hostile lieutenant governor.
Cuomo has tried to play down his presidential potentials in recent weeks, perhaps to avoid the increased scrutiny it might entail, denying point-blank an interview’s suggestion that his Israel trip was “very presidential.”
“I thought it was gubernatorial of me, I’ve been to Israel many times before,” Cuomo said.