The first post-primary Siena Institute poll on the local congressional election in November hasn’t come out yet, but if results from the most recent “only poll that counts” mean anything, my take is that Democrat Zephyr Teachout should be installed as at least a five-point favorite over Republican John Faso.
Primaries can’t be compared to general elections, particularly one held at an oddball date in late June. But there are some nuggets here. Teachout trounced a game-but-outclassed Will Yandik by almost three-to-one, which doesn’t sound as bad as 75 percent. Turnout was average at around 15 percent.
Faso’s two-to-one win over Andrew Heaney would have been more impressive if 90 percent of enrolled Republicans hadn’t stayed home. And the Republican contest was hotly contested and widely advertised, what with charges of carpetbagging and insider trading, insidious “lobbyists” and “billionaires” throwing “dark money” around.
Both winners came out swinging on primary night, presaging negative campaigns on both sides. As an absolute positive, we should be treated to sharply drawn contrasts between the candidates, something all too rare these days.
We’ll be hearing a lot more about Teachout’s residency, something barely mentioned in the primary, with Yandik only politely referring to his own family’s century-deep roots in Columbia County. Teachout moved into the district via the Dutchess burg of Dover Plains, hard on the state line with Connecticut, last December. Faso and his family have been fixtures in Kinderhook, Columbia County for more than 30 years. He’s campaigned in the area for decades.
I don’t think Teachout will make points with would-be constituents by referring to her native state of Vermont as “just up the road.” Maybe from Dover it’s not that long a ride, but for the rest of a sprawling district ranging west through Delaware and Otsego counties, north to the North Country, west to Binghamton and south through Sullivan County, it’s over the river and through the woods. Will Faso call his residency strike team “the Green Mountain boys?”
Is Teachout the new Hinchey?
Teachout has since moved westward into East Clinton, a little south and east of Rhinebeck. Given that trend, she should eventually show up in Ulster, perhaps in progressive hotspots like New Paltz or Woodstock. She would be welcomed with a brass band in either place. In Woodstock, Town Supervisor Jeremy Wilber might throw his hat in the air, revealing for the first time there really is something under it. In New Paltz, the town planning board would run up the flag in honor of Teachout, but would not pledge their allegiance.
That Teachout is extremely popular where she is popular is evidenced in New Paltz. The board of elections refuses to release town-by-town breakdowns which they used to do back in the paper days. To release the whole, however unofficial (but probably 95 percent on the mark) without contingent parts strikes me as almost Orwellian. But they resist. The county Board of Elections has its own schedule, initiated, I think, in 1896, and they will not change for anyone.
Meanwhile ubiquitous Dan Torres — among the many hats he wears is deputy New Paltz town supervisor, assistant to the county comptroller and pointman for Teachout — tells me that unofficial returns gleaned from town voting machines election night showed that Teachout took 93 percent of the New Paltz vote. That was no misprint. Ninety-three percent.
In his 1992 congressional primary against Binghamton mayor Juanita Crabb, the legendary Maurice Hinchey lost only one vote in Woodstock. He may be still looking for that voter. Republican Hamilton Fish of Millbrook, after a few close early elections in the late 1960s, routinely expected and achieved majorities in the 80 percent range over a 20-year career.
Is Teachout the new Hinchey? Not yet. Faso will not go quietly into the night, this being his last, best chance at congressional office. He will employ surrogates to characterize Teachout as a left-wing whack job, while she through surrogates will picture him as a right-wing nut, too “dangerous” near the levers of federal power. October debates should be a gas.
The road to election does not run through the fringes. Judging from numbers inside the Siena primary poll, both candidates must move toward middle ground, where the vast majority of voters will cast their ballots.
Here, it would appear, Faso might have something of an early advantage, which is to suggest Teachout’s post-primary lead might be tenuous. A Time Warner News/Siena poll also showed Faso with a 22 percent rating among “moderate” Republicans, while Teachout scored but 17 percent among similarly persuaded Democrats.
At this stage of the game Teachout would seem a force of nature, like the mild west wind for which she is named. It is Faso’s job to take the wind out of those sails.
Other primary notes
Teachout seemed to keep progressive leader Bernie Sanders at arm’s length during the primary, even as one of the first to endorse him late last year. The two progressives, one fading, the other rising, were apparently closer than perceived. The buzz around her election-night rally in Kingston was that a plea for financial support to Bernie supporters late in the campaign generated some $250,000 from one email in one day. Campaign spending statements due late this month could be instructive.
County Executive Mike Hein was given the honor of introducing a triumphant Teachout to her cheering crowd. Hein’s arch-rival, Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, was also in the house, but perhaps because of the hour, was not tapped for a few choice words. Point to Hein.
Hein’s 15 seconds in the spotlight did give rise to some what-ifs among a room of gossiping politicians, most of whom spend half their waking hours what-iffing with each other. Hein, in a cleverly orchestrated “campaign,” had allowed his name to be bandied about for Congress last year without making a commitment, but then “withdrew” just about the time Teachout was moving her furniture to Dover in December. Hein hinted that his (unrevealed) polls made him a solid contender against a Republican in the general election, which might have been the case, but what about a primary? Would Teachout or even Yandik have stepped aside for a country county executive with Republican roots? I don’t think so.
One-on-one, Teachout, running from the left, would have crushed Hein, running from the right and coming off a ho-hum reelection. Or so I would have predicted. In a three-way, Hein could have easily gotten more than a third of the vote against Teachout and Yandik.
One last primary note: Due to arcane election law, Sharon Graff will not be able to vote for herself in the Democratic primary for county surrogate judge in September. According to the board of elections, Graff enrolled as a Democrat after Oct. 15 last year, thus making her ineligible to vote in a party primary in 2016. She can run for the office, but she can’t vote?
The explanation is that New York’s two-party system is protected by the major two parties. Designed to prevent one party raiding another for voters around primaries, the law allows new registrants to enroll in a party and vote in the next primary. A previously registered voter can switch but has to sit out the next year’s elections. And these people talk about getting out the vote?