Long removed from the days of being accompanied by a single staffer, Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang returned to the Elm City Monday to a jubilant crowd that filled the flag room at Keene State College.
Of the campaign’s count of roughly 120 voters in attendance, many of them were sporting Yang campaign merchandise. Items included “MATH” hats — a popular $25 donation item — to stickers and even a T-shirt with a cartoon version of the tech entrepreneur’s face.
Yang’s campaigning has become more sophisticated since launching his campaign almost two years ago, with Monday marking his third trip to Keene.
While the 44-year-old has been running largely on the same central platform of warning the public about the perils of automation and assuaging economic anxiety through his proposal for a universal basic income — giving each American adult $1,000 a month to spend as they see fit by imposing a value-added tax on tech company transactions — his oratory has evolved.
Instead of listing statistics, studies and observations about the modern economy, he leaned more heavily Monday evening into call-and-response tactics. Yang would ask the crowd to raise their hands or shout out whether certain things applied to them, such as starting their own business, or if they remembered where they were on election night in 2016.
“He was very engaging with the audience,” Tobin Fay, a 20-year-old Keene State sophomore, said of Yang’s call-and-response technique. “The fact that he didn’t really walk around questions — he kind of addressed the person and really answered what they were asking.”
Yang also wove more humor and specifics into his stump speech, forming a cohesive narrative that struck some voters as refreshing and authentic compared to career politicians.
“This campaign has a bunch of deep ideas as to what’s really going on in American society,” Yang said afterward when asked about the evolution of his oratory. “And so any time I have a chance to address people, I want to give them a breakdown as to what the real problems are. So this is the form it ended up taking.
“It is true that it’s not a traditional politician stump speech where there aren’t a ton of applause lines, and it’s not a lot of rah-rah,” Yang added. “But one of the reasons I think we’re doing so well is that we’re being true to who we are, and I’m being true to who I am as a candidate, and, you know, I think explaining problems to people comes very naturally to me.”
A recent Fox News poll has the New Yorker in fifth place in the Democratic primary. And he was one of the first of only 10 candidates to qualify for the next round of debates in September by accumulating enough individual donors and consistent polling at 2 percent or better.
Yang was also joined Monday by campaign adviser Steve Marchand, a former mayor of Portsmouth and a two-time Democratic gubernatorial candidate.
When Yang last came to Keene in February, he was considered a long-shot, single-issue candidate with minimal name recognition. But as he promised that month on the premiere of The Sentinel’s politics podcast, Pod Free or Die, things were only getting started.
Just over a week later, Yang appeared on the popular podcast The Joe Rogan Experience — the episode’s YouTube video alone has more than 3.8 million views — and began cultivating a fervent following known as the #YangGang.
At his rally Monday night, supporters explained why they’re fully supporting him in the primary already after seeing him in person and researching him online.
Tobin Fay was joined by Michael Varno, 21, of Keene, who said he discovered Yang online after the first debates in late June and were drawn to his platform. Upon hearing him speak in the flag room Monday, they were both sold.
“He didn’t have any notes in front of him or anything, so the statistics were what really got me,” Varno, a rising senior at Endicott College in Beverly, Mass., said. “He was able to just pull things right out of his head. So I know that he’s done the research, and I know he believes in what he’s saying.”
Perhaps the most pointed question Yang faced from the audience was one that cut to the core of his message when a man asked if his $12,000 per-year “Freedom Dividend” would just be consigning Americans to near poverty despite being intended to help those displaced by the rise of automation.
“So according to McKinsey [Global Management Consulting], Bain [Capital], VCG [Consulting Group] and the Obama White House, we’re looking at automating away between 20 and 44 percent of American jobs in the next 10 to 25 years,” Yang said, before arguing that in the meantime, $1,000 a month could help Americans save money, invest in a new business venture, pursue other interests and better insulate themselves for the turbulent transition whenever automation hits their professional sector.
“You have to look at the second-order impact of people getting a thousand bucks a month, not just that household, because you’re right,” Yang said. “A thousand bucks is not a job replacement, nor is it intended to be. What it does is help us move towards an economy that has more opportunities in the sort of work that we want to do.”
When Yang asked if that money coming into Keene would boost entrepreneurship, the arts and caregiving, he was met with nodding heads and a chorus of yeses.
Throughout his speech and well into the Q&A period, several voters would turn to their neighbor, raising their eyebrows and nodding in agreement.
“That’s what I like about seeing a candidate in person,” Varno said, “because anyone can type anything and post it on their website, but when you see them actually talk about it in person, you can see that passion.”