• September 29, 2020

Andrew Yang’s Campaign Is Riding on New Hampshire

Andrew Yang’s Campaign Is Riding on New Hampshire

EXETER, N.H. — They say all politics is local. And for many months, the entrepreneur Andrew Yang has been dutifully reminding New Hampshire voters that he went to high school at Phillips Exeter Academy.

Late last week, Mr. Yang, 45, found himself back where he spent the formative years of his adolescence, making what could be his last visit to Exeter for some time. Having laid off dozens of staff members after failing to earn any pledged delegates in the Iowa caucuses, he has repeatedly signaled in recent days that his presidential campaign’s continued viability depends on a breakout performance in New Hampshire.

Seemingly aware of this, Mr. Yang allowed his mind to wander while in town and permitted himself to digress from his standard opening at his event Thursday night.

“I just had a trip down memory lane,” he told the audience. “I was walking down Main Street. I was searching my memory bank as to how many of these shops were there when I graduated. I have to remind myself, dude, it’s been 28 years. Stores change.”

Soon, it was back to the standard voter pitch — a 20-minute talk about how automation and job loss have left Americans unsettled and what needs to be done to restore their sense of self-worth. But as Mr. Yang acknowledged later that night in a telephone interview, something about the fact that his campaign’s future depended on New Hampshire felt appropriate.

“It feels like I’ve come full circle,” he said. “I’m thrilled to be fighting for the future of this country in a place I grew up — a place I came of age. It feels like an adopted son is coming home.”

Indeed, after months of steady growth and bubbling excitement, the Yang campaign received a harsh reality check when Iowans caucused last week. Despite considerable ad spending and a 17-day bus tour throughout Iowa, Mr. Yang earned only about 5 percent of the popular vote on first alignment, improving only slightly upon his polling numbers in the state.

Mr. Yang’s showing did him little good in Iowa’s caucusing system, under which candidates must earn 15 percent support in a given precinct to be declared “viable” and have a shot at procuring all-important delegates. He left the state without a single pledged delegate to the national convention.

All of which makes Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary essentially make or break for his candidacy. Though he has raised more than $30 million since he first submitted paperwork to run, in fall 2017, Mr. Yang began the year with only $3.7 million in cash on hand, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.

He has spent more than $3 million on television ads in the Boston media market, and he has spent a significant share of his time on the trail campaigning in New Hampshire. Despite these investments, polls of New Hampshire voters continue to show him in the single digits.

And although he earned some of his strongest numbers here earlier in the cycle, recent polls have shown him losing some support as candidates like Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., and Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota have gained ground.

After the campaign laid off the staff members, it sent an email to supporters signed by Mr. Yang that suggested he would need to finish in the top four here for his campaign to get “the boost it needs.” And in this still-crowded field, a finish that high would almost certainly require Mr. Yang to significantly outperform his poll numbers.

“If we miss this fund-raising goal and our target finish in New Hampshire, I don’t believe we can continue contending at the same level,” Mr. Yang wrote.

Mr. Yang and his top staff members have long viewed New Hampshire as his best chance to surprise. With its large share of independent or undeclared voters, Mr. Yang has called the state a “natural home” for him and his message — one that has appealed particularly to disaffected voters, Libertarians and others who are skeptical of the Democratic establishment.

At events here, he has emphasized the idea that he is a Democrat whom former Trump supporters can get behind, in an explicit pitch to independent-minded and conservative-leaning voters mulling whether to participate in New Hampshire’s open primary.

Following the Iowa debacle, in which a faulty app led to delays in reporting results, he has also sought to highlight the need for a tech-savvy president who is good with numbers.

And as he did with the bus tour in Iowa, Mr. Yang is working at least as hard as any candidate in the field to ensure that as many voters as possible get a chance to hear him out.

After a Friday spent largely away from the campaign trail, that was punctuated by a Democratic debate in which he once again spoke the least, Mr. Yang crisscrossed the state over the weekend, attending four events on Saturday and holding five town-hall-style events on Sunday.

Down the homestretch, the crowds at Mr. Yang’s events have gradually begun to attract a larger share of undecided voters and those who say they are hearing him speak for the first time. Many of those voters said they liked Mr. Yang and found him smart, genuine and humane.

“I rushed over, and I’m so glad I did,” said Erik Bell, 59, of Keene, N.H., after seeing Mr. Yang at a town hall event there.

Mr. Yang had “made a very good impression,” Mr. Bell said, and had “jumped up” on the list of candidates he was considering, a list he said included Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Mr. Buttigieg.

Some longtime supporters said in interviews that they had high hopes for Mr. Yang, regardless of how he does in the presidential race, while acknowledging that in order to stay in the contest, he needed a strong showing on Tuesday.

Put another way, Devin Clemons, 23, of Milford, N.H., said Mr. Yang would need to “shock the political world.” What would that entail exactly? Several of Mr. Yang’s supporters, including Mr. Clemons, said they thought he needed to finish with support in the double digits.

“If he doesn’t perform well, it’s going to hurt,” Mr. Clemons said. “New Hampshire is definitely one of his strongest spots.”

Some of Mr. Yang’s supporters insisted that he would make it through Super Tuesday and beyond. Others mused about the possibility of Mr. Yang being picked as someone’s running mate.

And still others, like Malissa Witkum, 45, of Brookline, N.H., said simply that they trusted Mr. Yang to do the math, and then make whatever choice feels right.

“He just has to make the best decision for himself that he can,” Ms. Witkum said. “He’ll know when the time is the time.”

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