Businessman Andrew Yang ends his US presidential bid

US Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang speaks during a campaign event at Hopkinton Town Hall, on Feb 9, 2020, in Hopkinton, New Hampshire.
US Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang speaks during a campaign event at Hopkinton Town Hall, on Feb 9, 2020, in Hopkinton, New Hampshire.PHOTO: AFP

MANCHESTER, NEW HAMPSHIRE (NYTIMES) - Mr Andrew Yang, an entrepreneur with no previous political experience who evangelised a universal basic income and warned of the perils of automation, ended his longer-than-long-shot bid for president Tuesday night (Feb 11) after a campaign that endured even as those of members of Congress and governors fell away.

Speaking to supporters inside a ballroom in Manchester, New Hampshire, as the state’s primary results were coming in, Mr Yang said "endings are hard" and that he had intended to stay in the race until the end.

"I am the math guy, and it’s clear from the numbers we’re not going to win this campaign," he said. "So tonight I’m announcing that I am suspending my campaign."

Mr Yang’s campaign has spent considerable time and resources in the state and was banking on the backing of its many independent voters.

Mr Yang had signalled in recent interviews and emails to supporters that he would need to vastly outperform expectations in the Granite State for his campaign to continue.

The end comes a week after Mr Yang, 45, failed to win any pledged delegates in Iowa despite spending a significant share of his war chest on ads there.

Mr Yang’s decision to exit the race closes out one of the Democratic primary’s most surprising storylines, removing a candidate who developed a fiercely loyal following of disaffected voters from across the ideological spectrum and intrigued even skeptics with his wit, levity and relentless positivity.

The son of Taiwanese immigrants, Mr Yang was one of about a half-dozen viable Asian American candidates to ever run for president.

He became something of an involuntary torchbearer for Asian Americans as he grappled with how to discuss his identity on the trail and how to address and confront racism.

But it was Mr Yang’s plan to give every American adult US$1,000 (S$1,386) a month that formed the foundation and rationale for his run.

Aware that a candidate beginning with essentially no name recognition and few traditional credentials would face stiff odds, Mr Yang often told audiences that he had not initially wanted to run for president, because he was not "crazy."

But he would add that during a trip to Washington, he was told that if he wanted the government to do anything about job loss caused by automation, he would need to bring a "wave" crashing down on the heads of bureaucrats. His run for president, he said, amounted to that wave.

Mr Yang enjoyed steady growth from under the radar as higher-profile candidates took turns as the front-runner and absorbed the media scrutiny and attacks from rivals that came with that status.

But two days after Mr Yang’s underwhelming performance in Iowa, his campaign laid off dozens of staff members from a team that had ballooned from fewer than a dozen people to over 200.

Despite having raised more than US$30 million over the course of his presidential campaign – a remarkable sum for a political outsider – Mr Yang’s team had only US$3.7 million in cash on hand at the start of this year, according to federal filings.

In an email to supporters last week, he suggested he would need to finish in the top four in the New Hampshire primary for the campaign to get "the boost" it needed – a goal he failed to achieve.

Mr Yang’s base of political support consisted mostly of young and male voters – some progressive, some who previously supported President Donald Trump and many in between.

His departure from the race could aid Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, whom many of Mr Yang’s most loyal fans said they had voted for in 2016.

But given that Mr Yang’s support in the polls never exceeded the mid-single-digits, no candidate is likely to be significantly helped by his exit.

Indeed, at rallies and town halls throughout the primary, many members of the so-called Yang Gang said they had never been involved in politics before encountering Mr Yang.

His plans moving forward were not immediately clear, though senior campaign officials would not rule out a return to politics.

"We are just getting started," Mr Zach Graumann, Mr Yang’s campaign manager, said Tuesday.

Early in his campaign – sometimes in front of audiences of a few dozen people or less – Mr Yang, the Schenectady, New York-born former head of a test-prep company and a non-profit organisation, often sounded the alarm about what he called the "fourth industrial revolution."

Automation, he warned, would bring mass unemployment, chaos and even violence if no remedy were pursued; free money combined with a more human economic system, he argued, would buffer American society against its worst effects and help restore people’s dignity.

The candidate and a small campaign staff laboured in relative obscurity for about a year until February 2019, when Mr Yang went on a popular podcast and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars overnight.

From there, he began a slow but steady rise, raising millions of dollars each quarter and moving from less than 1 per cent in the polls to 4 per cent and 5 per cent early this year.

His political operation grew and formalised. Unlike several more experienced candidates, Mr Yang qualified for all of the 2019 Democratic debates, and he appeared to grow more comfortable on the trail and the debate stages.

At a debate in the fall, moderators asked the candidates about automation, a moment of pride for Mr Yang. By the time the Iowa caucuses arrived, Mr Yang was one of just 11 people in the field, which had at one point ballooned to two dozen.

But Mr Yang’s modest rise also coincided with increased scrutiny of his policy proposals, his past treatment of employees and his handling of topics like race and gender.

The news media began digging into the cost of his universal basic income proposal; he was criticised for saying at a debate, “I am Asian, so I know a lot of doctors”; and he faced claims of gender discrimination from campaign volunteers and past employees.

Still, when Mr Yang ostensibly kicked off his campaign in February 2018 by announcing it in an article in The New York Times, few would have expected him to make a run so deep into the primary.

Mr Yang seemed self-aware enough to comprehend this.

At a debate in December that had been winnowed down to seven candidates, Mr Yang earned laughs when he remarked, "I know what you’re thinking, America: How am I still on this stage with them?"

In an interview last week, Mr Yang reflected on his two years on the trail.

"Supporters come up to me just about every day and say, ‘Thank you, this campaign lifted me out of a depression,’ or ‘Thank you, this campaign made me feel so much better about my future,’" he said. "It’s really incredible."

"And while you’re running, you don’t really reflect on these things because you’re trying to get to the next benchmark," he continued.

"But it’s very touching that this campaign has touched other people. It is something that I had hoped for, but I didn’t realise what it would feel like to actually see it."