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Why Zephyr Teachout Just Might Win

Mike Boland Aug 21, 2014

Editor’s Note: Can Zephyr Teachout topple incumbent New York governor Andrew Cuomo in the Sept. 9 Democratic Party primary? The conventional wisdom says it’s impossible; that she’s too little known, too underfinanced and too far to the left of Cuomo. In this August 18 letter to supporters, Teachout’s campaign manager Mike Boland makes a case for why Teachout just might pull off one of the biggest upsets in U.S. political history.

Aside from our ardent supporters, most observers wrote our campaign off before we even started. From the beginning we have been very sober about our chances of winning and while we remain so, we can’t help but notice things are breaking our way. The endorsement of the Public Employees Federation is a signal that something is happening. Elected officials and organizations have begun contacting us in the last 24 hours about coming out and following their lead. Let’s take a look at what has happened in the last few weeks and some of the dynamics at play that we think make it possible we can pull off the biggest upset in modern New York politics

Its not just Moreland-gate. The New York Times expose was just the tip of the iceberg and what’s below the surface is as bad or worse than what is already well known. The Pro-Publica report about the Governor’s role in giving immunity to financial criminals and undermining the entire post crash investigation was deeply disturbing and explains why some of the biggest financial criminals in world history were never brought to justice. The raiding of the environmental fund to pay for the Tappan Zee Bridge may have been illegal and was carried out by a board under the Governor’s control acting on his behalf. Then there was the Preet Bharara warning about witness tampering. Whether or not Preet’s investigation surfaces a violation of federal law, there is a strong case they broke more than one of the following state criminal statutes: 195.00, 195.05, 205.50.  More recently it’s been revealed that the Administration is lying about its use of private email accounts, while auto deleting all of the public account emails. Whether or not the Governor’s behavior is illegal, it looks really, really bad. We’ve begun to get random calls from individuals from across the country with tips about Cuomo Administration corruption. These stories aren’t going away. Voters are going to become more aware of this pattern of corruption in the coming weeks as our campaign makes the case.

Trying to knock us off the ballot is a huge blunder. The Governor has three problems here: the facts, the law and the optics. We ran the traps on this case extensively before we considered entering the race — we had four lawyers look at it. All four said we had no problem at all.  We didn’t ask for this attempt to throw us off the ballot, but the truth is we welcomed the opportunity to make our case before the court and the public.  It has forced the Governor to stop ignoring us and begin engaging. We have received a lot of positive coverage out of it, and once again, the Governor has been exposed as a petty bully. They’ve decided to appeal. Ask any election lawyer in the state besides Marty Connor, and they will tell you the appeal borders on absurd. This lawsuit underscores the fact that Governor Cuomo is actually worried about Zephyr Teachout’s campaign and is shining a light on his refusal to debate with her.

The New York Times. One outlet in particular we’ve been getting good coverage from (while the Governor is getting particularly bad coverage) is the NYT. Let’s remember for a moment who is voting in the Democratic Primary: more than any other publication in the state, it’s the New York Times readers. For those who may have missed it, we’ve included here the Times coverage we’ve gotten in the last two weeks.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/12/opinion/gov-cuomo-should-welcome-zephyr-teachout.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/12/nyregion/cuomo-primary-opponent-can-run-judge-rules.html?_r=0

http://takingnote.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/08/07/does-zephyr-teachout-live-in-new-york-the-governor-wants-to-know/

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/07/nyregion/cuomo-to-challenge-teachout-over-alleged-new-york-residency-ineligibility-before-primary-vote.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/03/nyregion/a-cuomo-opponent-tilting-at-corruption.html

Here’s another good example of the type of coverage we are getting from other outlets on a fairly regular basis:

http://www.thenation.com/article/181289/how-zephyr-teachout-became-contender#

Intensity Matters. Thin, unenthusiastic popular support doesn’t drive primary turnout; intensity does. The Governor has a big enthusiasm gap. Not only are his ardent supporters less ardent due to the rash of scandals, and to an agenda that is so often out of step with Democrats, but because conventional wisdom and the media suggest that the Governor is a sure thing, they probably don’t think it’s a really important election to vote in. In stark contrast, our supporters are on a mission to defeat this Governor — teachers, public workers, anti-fracking activists – this is personal and serious and they are going to vote come hell or high water on Sept. 9. The best, simplest evidence is our large base of small donors. On one good day, we nearly beat the Governor’s year-to-date total of individual donors. He’s got a total of about 800 individual donors; we have nearly 3000 as of the writing of this memo.  

Polling doesn’t matter as much. If polling was reliable in a race like this then then it would be worth noting that the Governor’s approval rating is at an all time low right now. Let’s start with the obvious: because of enthusiasm and intensity, predicting Democratic Primary turnout is very difficult to begin with. There’s a reason there aren’t public polls on this: those polling firms don’t like to predict wrong, and when it comes to primaries, they often do. The most recent example of this was the Rochester mayors race. Three different polls — two private and one public — all showed Mayor Richards defeating Lovely Warren by double digits within a couple weeks of the election. When election day rolled around, the opposite was true. If you’re not familiar with it, here’s a link from the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle:

http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/local/2013/09/11/lovely-warren-wins-in-stunning-upset-/2796711/

I’ll refrain from pointing out the Brat example, as that was a Republican primary in a federal race, but take a look at what just happened in Hawaii:

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/08/15/1321625/-How-Hawaii-Gov-Neil-Abercrombie-lost-by-36-points?detail=email

Could it be that there is something going on in American politics right now? Because between Brat, Abercrombie and maybe Teachout/Wu, this could be the year of the underdog.

Right person, right place, right time. An anti-corruption activist would probably be a decent profile for a candidate in any cycle of a New York election — but it’s particularly true right now. Corruption has never before and probably will never again get as much coverage in the media as it’s getting right now. Do voters care about corruption? Somewhat. But right now more than any other election in recent memory is the best possible setting for a woman with the resume that Zephyr Teachout has. We see the challenges facing our campaign as raising the name recognition of our candidate and demonstrating to voters that the legal form of corruption that the Governor has mastered has a real effect on their economic lives. The Governor is running a corrupt, crony capitalist economic policy that stacks the deck in favor of his campaign contributors and against small business. The billions – over $7 billion in tax giveaways and subsidies to big box stores and real estate developments — are starving our schools and leaving home-owners picking up the bill in the form of higher property taxes. Later this month our campaign is going on a whistleblower tour across the state to shine on a light on the true cost of corruption for working families.

What fundraising gap? Obviously we are going to be outspent by a lot. But it’s not as bad as it looks. Let’s start with this: we’re on track to raise and spend close to a million dollars, and the majority of that is about to be spent in the next four weeks. The Governor has $35 million, but he’s planning to have a lot of that money left over after the general, let alone the primary. Remember, he’s spending a lot of money on TV, and every ad he buys alerts voters that there is a primary coming up — which is one of our biggest hurdles: getting the message out that there is even a primary in the first place. Also, there is a huge diminishing rate of return on money in campaigns. When you have $35 million, you pay a hell of lot more for everything than you do when you are running a bootstraps campaign. He’s got an army of high priced consultants making profits on every aspect of his operation. I’m sure they pay more in rent in one month than we will on the entire campaign. $35-$1 looks really bad on paper, but I doubt they are planning to spend more than $10 million on the primary and at least a third of that goes to profits and waste that is inherent in a massive campaign operation.

The Wu factor. Even if the Governor wins this race, there is a real possibility that he doesn’t finish his second term. Let’s set aside the idea of the Governor running for President, which is pretty damn unrealistic at this point. There’s a decent chance at least one of the following two things happen: he resigns due to one of his scandals or leaves for a job in the next presidential administration. This LG race is a crap shoot. Outside of her home district, Hochul seems to mostly draw animosity for her views on gun safety and immigration. There are a lot of votes that Cuomo will get that Kathy Hochul won’t get. No one knows what kind of participation rates we are going to see from Asian-Americans in this primary, but Tim is working on drawing new voters into the race, and he’s bringing them along for Zephyr.

The Hochul Factor. Hochul doesn’t just create an opportunity for Tim; she creates a problem for the Governor. People will pay more attention as the election gets closer, and the Hochul problem will grow rather than fade. When of color Democratic Primary voters start to note that the Governor’s choice for a running mate has a 100% NRA record and an anti-immigrant background, the Governor is going to regret his choice. Because there is so much fodder in the immigration and gun stances, the media hasn’t even begun to look at her environmental record while in Congress — and let me tell you, she’s got some doozies. The Governor’s Buffalo Billion probably had already put him in a strong position to win Buffalo, so it’s not clear what Hochul adds for him. However, the downside is rather clear. He’s been running a general election strategy, but now he’s got an actual primary and it’s not a show — it’s an actual fight.

The Netroots factor. The endorsements from Netroots organizations are starting to roll in. In the last two weeks, we received the endorsement of Larry Lessig of May Day PAC, Progressives United, Blue America, and of course the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. These are not paper endorsements. These groups are driving our prolific small donor program, our volunteer operation and, most importantly, our buzz. In the coming weeks we expect several more big online endorsements that will expand our reach to over a million New Yorkers in the final couple of weeks of this campaign. Turnout in the Democratic Primary is likely to be between 600,000 – 800,000 votes. Between the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Democrats.com and the organizations listed above — we’re already communicating regularly with well over 300,000 progressive New Yorkers. As more online groups endorse in the next two weeks, our reach may exceed a million people right when voters are paying the most attention.   

Again, we’re sober about all of this. We know we are going up against the most well-funded incumbent in NYS history. We know that we have a long way to go and not a lot of time to make Zephyr & Tim household names — but there are some dynamics at play that we think make this a race. We’ve been hitting pretty hard over the past several weeks, but have been holding back some of our best shots until the voters and the media are paying attention. We’ve got a few weeks remaining now. Consider us a campaign with more than a puncher’s chance. We’ve got a powerful left hook that might just catch this Governor dancing around trying to avoid a fight.

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