The morning of July 30 is cool and sunny in Dutchess County, New York, and Zephyr Teachout stands at the foot of a giant inflatable staircase, dressed in a bright-blue running shirt and shorts. The law professor and congressional candidate had been a competitive runner in her youth and couldn’t resist the allure of the slides and adult bouncy castles of the Inflatable 5K, a race that has taken over the Dutchess County Fairgrounds. At 8:30 am, she is ready to go in the first heat of the race.
Teachout waves and gives a thumbs-up and then, with the start of the race, is off. Running alongside her are hard-bodied young men zipping over the inflatable obstacles, and families trotting along. Children hop with obvious glee. When Teachout comes bounding through the biggest obstacle—a massive blue inflatable cage with big green balls inside—she is red-faced but still smiling. After gliding down the slide that marks the finish line, she laughs, “It was really hard!” and makes a joke about the obvious metaphor for the obstacles she must face in her run for Congress.
Dutchess County and the rest of the 19th Congressional District were part of the swath of New York State that Teachout won in 2014, when she challenged New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic primary. In that race, despite little recognition of her unusual name and almost no institutional support from the party, she took 33.5 percent of the vote from the incumbent governor. Now a resident of the Hudson Valley, she decided to run for the US House of Representatives when Chris Gibson, the Republican who currently represents the 19th, announced that he would not run for reelection. Her opponent is John Faso, a former state representative and, as Teachout likes to point out, a former lobbyist.
These days, Teachout no longer has to spend as much time introducing herself to people; in the two years since she challenged Cuomo, she has gained national as well as local prominence, published a well-received book on corruption in America, and joined activists organizing in the district on various issues. She’s also garnered attention as part of the Bernie Sanders movement: Teachout, like the senator who shook up the Democrats’ presidential race, is a Vermonter who doesn’t mind taking on her own party. A dedicated progressive, she was among the first candidates endorsed by Sanders as part of his “political revolution.” In September, Sanders—who has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Teachout from his supporters—stumped for her at a rally in New Paltz, a cozy college town with an enduring hippie vibe. “There are 435 members in the US House of Representatives. You are about to elect the most outstanding member, a leader at a time when we need leaders,” Sanders said.