A month out from caucus night, entrepreneur Andrew Yang is banking on success in Iowa to rocket his upstart campaign through the early states and “all the way to the top."
Dating back to then-governor of Georgia Jimmy Carter in 1972, longshot candidates have turned their sights on Iowa, making the bet that by meeting with enough Iowans in the right coffee shops and high school auditoriums they could launch themselves on the road to the White House.
Next month, Yang is hoping to carve out his pathway forward through the Hawkeye State.
Friday night in Perry, some 200 people turned out at Perry Perk coffee shop to see what Yang had to offer. Some knew little more than that the former tech entrepreneur is proposing to give every American adult $1,000 a month under his plan for universal basic income.
The line of potential caucusgoers stretched down the block as snow began to fall, while inside the café, campaign staffers rushed to rearrange rows of chairs, bracing for the crush of a crowd they knew would be too big for the event space they’d booked.
Campaign staffers said they had received about 50 RSVPs, and they weren’t prepared for this kind of crowd at the event, the first of 17 stops that Yang will host between Friday and Monday. But a month out from caucus night, it’s a good problem to have, they said.
One month out from Caucus Night and there are a lot of people ready to see @AndrewYang in Perry, Iowa.
This is a town of about 7500 people.
— Kate Payne (@hellokatepayne) January 4, 2020
When the candidate arrived, he climbed up on the counter of the coffee shop and gave his speech from there.
“This campaign is an uprising of the people to reclaim the government that has been overrun by the corporations and lobbying interests,” Yang said. “This is our chance to climb all the way to the top and re-write the rules to work for us. But it has to start right here in Iowa on February 3rd.”
“If you do not take this opportunity, we’re going to miss it,” he continued. “We can’t do it without you.”
While members of Congress, sitting governors and a former cabinet official have bowed out of the Democratic presidential race for lack of funds or support, Yang has won over a dedicated group of followers known as the “Yang Gang” with his message outlining a country facing down a fundamental economic transformation and a political class he says is unable to grapple with the changes.
Instead, Yang says he hopes to redefine the success of the U.S. economy by expanding the metrics beyond gross domestic product to account for factors like quality of life and civic engagement.
There are parallels between the economic message delivered by now-President Donald Trump in 2016 and Yang in 2020: images of rural areas emptying out and manufacturing communities in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania crumbling as workers lose their jobs. But while Trump points to immigration, Yang points to automation as the source of economic disruption.
“What were Donald Trump solutions? ‘We’re going to build a wall. Turn the clock back. Bring the old jobs back’. Iowa, you know we have to do the opposite. We have to turn the clock forward,” Yang said, “We need to evolve in the way we think about ourselves and our work and our value.”
Yang’s economic message has resonated with Christine McQuillan, a stay-at-home mom who says she’s committed to serve as a precinct captain for the campaign, after initially considering California Sen. Kamala Harris. She says she changed her party registration from Republican to Democrat two weeks ago, after about eight years of becoming disenchanted with the GOP.
In this race, she says her decision comes down to economics.
“You can talk about being capitalist, but if capitalism doesn’t have humanity attached to it, then there’s no point. So I love the idea that capitalism doesn’t have to start at zero and that we can measure what things are important,” she said.
Yang has yet to qualify for the upcoming Democratic debate, which will take place in Des Moines January 14th, the last debate ahead of caucus night. Yang hasn’t yet cleared the polling threshold set by the DNC, though he has earned the necessary 225,000 unique contributions.
In the most recent fundraising quarter, Yang pulled in $16.5 million, edging out Sen. Amy Klobuchar D-Minn., who’s also been fighting her way towards the top tier of candidates. The funds will help keep the former tech entrepreneur competing in the race “through the early-state primaries, Super Tuesday, and beyond,” according to a statement by Yang Campaign Chief Nick Ryan.
But perched on top of the counter of the coffee shop in downtown Perry on Friday night, Yang told the crowd he wants his path forward to run through Iowa.
“Can you imagine those headlines on February 4th when Andrew Yang wins Iowa?” he asked as cheers broke out in the audience.
“We can make it happen. You can make it happen,” he told the crowd. “If we take this vision to the rest of the country, it will catch on like wildfire.”