With Big Endorsement In Hand, Zephyr Teachout Sees Opening In New York Governor's Race

08/06/2014 11:54 am ET
ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON -- New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is taking a lot of heat over accusations that his office improperly stymied the Moreland Commission, a government ethics panel that he set up.

But as Cuomo fights off prosecutors, he's also fighting off a primary challenger who seems to be picking up steam.

Fordham University law professor Zephyr Teachout started out as a longshot candidate but has received a host of progressive support amid accusations that Cuomo abused his office by interfering with the panel. On Tuesday, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee formally endorsed her, and Teachout thinks the political wind is at her back.

"That's a great signal nationally," she said of the endorsement, speaking to The Huffington Post in a phone call as she headed to a campaign event. "That's a great signal to progressives in New York State that a major national progressive group is behind them."

Teachout is fighting an uphill electoral battle. Ninety-one percent of the Democrats in New York don't know who she is, according to a recent poll. Cuomo is also polling well against the Republican nominee, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino. HuffPost Pollster, which averages publicly available polling, currently has Cuomo holding just over 60 percent of the electorate in a head-to-head match-up with Astorino.

But the scandals may be chipping away at Cuomo's public image. On Tuesday, a new poll found that Cuomo's approval ratings had slipped to their lowest point since he took office. But the poll also found he still holds a significant lead over Astorino; it did not mention Teachout.

Progressives hope PCCC's endorsement will help Teachout with fundraising, where she will face a lopsided battle against Cuomo's wealthy donor base. The group claims nearly 1 million members nationally, and backs progressive candidates, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in 2012. Like Warren, Teachout has a long academic history detailing the dangers of renegade finance. She was an influential voice for reform during the debate over the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial overhaul, and has long criticized the influence of corporate money in politics.

And Democrats may be looking for a progressive alternative to Cuomo. Although he has won Democratic accolades for his aggressive support for gay marriage, he has also opposed raising taxes on the wealthy, and his budgets have dramatically cut back on teachers and state health care workers.

When asked whether she might be able to pick up some votes from Democrats used to voting with the party establishment, Teachout was hopeful.

"With the scandals in the last two weeks, the political landscape is really changing in New York right now," Teachout said. "The highly informed Democrat voters are already jumping ship … Cuomo has failed to live up to his basic promises of doing anything about money in politics, and really governed as a Republican."

Teachout says she would break with Cuomo's agenda by banning fracking for natural gas, increasing public school funding and establishing a system of public financing for elections to create a buffer between special interest money and the political process. Cuomo has formally supported public financing, but has not secured the passage of a related bill.

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