Defeated congressional candidate Zephyr Teachout aims to stay involved

Zephyr Teachout (photo by Dion Ogust)

Her campaign upended by a Republican surge (except for Ulster), losing congressional candidate Zephyr Teachout says she’ll keep it local for the foreseeable future.

“I have no intentions to run for office at this time,” she said via telephone from her Clinton Corners home on Tuesday. But she says she’ll keep busy reorganizing Democrats in the town and Dutchess County after John Faso’s — and Donald Trump’s — victory in the 19th Congressional District.

Democrat Teachout, who will retain her position as an associate professor of law at Fordham University, lost the election to Republican Faso by some 26,000 votes. She carried Democratic Ulster by 9325 votes. Results indicate she lost “the Faso end” of the district by over 37,000 votes. Usually solidly Democratic Sullivan County and nominally Democratic Orange both went for the Republican candidate.


Analyzing election returns, Teachout concluded that the mistake Democrats made was not necessarily in underestimating Trump, but in lending too much credence to Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign against president Brarack Obama.

“Romney did not nearly have the support we thought he had,” she said. “He had no popular appeal. In the end there was a 15-point swing between Obama carrying the district by six points and Trump carrying it by nine. We thought we were looking at just a few points.”

Taking similar positions to Hillary Clinton, Teachout closely matched Clinton returns in Ulster. Overall, both carried the county with about 55 percent. A sampling of official returns in Kingston showed Teachout a 60-40 winner, the same as Clinton. In Woodstock, Teachout, with 82 percent of the vote, ran slightly ahead of Clinton. A sampling of key districts in New Paltz, where she held a well-attended October rally with Bernie Sanders, gave her over 85 percent.

As with Clinton, Saugerties was a battleground, with Teachout eking out a 34-vote win. Clinton carried Saugerties by 134 votes.

Criticized by the conservative Faso as far-left, Teachout, 45, said she has no intention of changing her core beliefs. “I think you have to run as who you are,” she said. “It’s an ethical challenge. I am what I am.”

That said, Teachout said one of the things that “puzzled” her about the campaign was that “people didn’t know what Democrats stood for,” a criticism also leveled at Clinton.

“I work with the Working Families Party [which endorsed her],” she said. “I’m a Democrat and I believe it is incredibly important all the time to talk about basics, social security, infrastructure, investing in the future. You cannot not talk about the economy at the top of the ticket.”


Huge amounts of cash

Teachout also expressed concern about the volume of money expended in the congressional election. Campaign reports indicate that about $19 million was spent, almost evenly divided between the candidates.

“I’ve studied money in politics all my life. I did not expect that much. I was a little shocked,” she said.

A chief concern was that about a third of funding came from so-called unaccountable “superpacs,” which by law cannot coordinate campaigns with candidates. “It was unnerving that in our race the majority of messages people were hearing was from people who weren’t talking to the candidates,” she said.

In keeping with a lower profile, Teachout said she would not be attending the million-woman protest in Washington on January 21, opting instead for a similar event in Cooperstown.

She believes that after some initial post-election disillusionment the mood of local Democrats is upbeat. “We’re rebuilding,” she said. “There’s definitely a hunger to act. Politics after all is the constant job of holding power accountable. We’re just trying to figure out what that means.”

Asked what advice would she give Faso as he assumes office, Teachout paused and laughed. “I think he has a chance to show he’s not working for the big-money people,” she said.

While eschewing her own candidacy for the time being, Teachout predicts that the almost evenly divided congressional district will continue to be a battleground.

“This is a swing district,” she said. “We lost by eight points, but the beating heart of this district is the independents. We will continue to see intense elections in this district.”