When Zephyr Teachout lost the endorsement of the liberal Working Families Party (WFP) in June, it was a blow to her upstart campaign. She hoped to run against Governor Andrew Cuomo as a third party candidate. However, In what the Wall Street Journal termed an “eleventh hour deal,” the WFP decided to endorse Cuomo’s re-election bid in exchange for a series of promises.
Minor parties in New York are designed to allow for more unknown candidates to enter races, and the WFP has wielded a great amount of influence in the state since it was founded in 1998.When the group endorsed Cuomo, who many Democrats have been disappointed with for abandoning unions and doing nothing to break the control of the Republican Senate, they
lost the chance to push an outsider candidate to the fore.
Instead of bowing out of the race, Teachout decided to run against Cuomo in the September Democratic primary. Slowly, she began to build grassroots support, punctuated most recently by an endorsement from the Village Independent Democrats (VID), a group based in lower Manhattan.
The group cited several reasons behind their decision to back Teachout over Cuomo, but pointed to Cuomo’s refusal to ban fracking as their overriding concern. In contrast, Teachout has attended anti-fracking rallies and believes it should be banned in the state.
However, Teachout emphasizes that she is not running an endorsement-based campaign. Instead, she is traveling around the state hoping to engage activist organizations in the democratic process.
On Friday, Teachout was at the Staten Island Democratic Association, not to pick up an endorsement, but to meet the people behind the campaign. These people included the 1,000 teachers who signed her petition to get on the ballot.
“This is the campaign I want to run,” Teachout said, who continually emphasized the importance of populist politics in the history of the Democratic Party and in changing American politics.
That strategy seems to be working.
Last week, Teachout handed in three times the number of required signatures to get on the Democratic primary ballot. She also reported a quarter of a million dollars in fundraising, an achievement made more impressive by the array of small-donor contributions. Her number of donors actually exceeded Cuomo’s, even though a smaller group of contributors donated $8.5 million to his campaign.
Teachout, herself, seemed a little blown away by this fact.“Can I stop for a moment and say just how remarkable that is?" She remarked. "A well-known governor, whose name has been known since his birth because of his father’s political career, received fewer donations in a six-month period that an unknown challenger in one month?”
While Teachout is still considered a huge underdog in the campaign, primaries in New York are increasingly important. No Republican has been elected to a statewide office in over a decade and registered Democrats now outnumber Republicans two-to-one.
New York has a closed primary system, which means that only citizens registered with a political party may participate in the first round of voting. As of 2010, less than 64 percent of eligible New Yorkers were registered, and the state regularly records one of the nation’s worst voter turnout rates.
These dismal numbers mean that the next governor will likely be decided on September 9, 2014, increasing the importance of the Teachout-Cuomo contest and the next few months of campaigning.