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Goodbye To Andrew Yang, 2020’s Most Unexpectedly Successful Losing Candidate

Not a single Democratic candidate dropped out of the race after the Iowa caucuses — no doubt because of the messy result there. But the early states have now started to do their traditional job of winnowing the field. It just took the New Hampshire primary to get things going.

The first to go: Entrepreneur Andrew Yang announced the end of his campaign as it became clear he was way behind in the early returns from New Hampshire. Yang probably never really had a chance to win the Democratic nomination: He had never served in an elected office (or even run for one), and unlike President Trump, Yang wasn’t famous from his business career. Voters’ priorities at the moment didn’t really suit the Yang campaign either — Democrats are desperate to find an “electable” candidate, and an Asian American man who lives in New York City and campaigned on giving all Americans $12,000 a year as part of a universal basic income was probably not what they had in mind.

But it’s safe to say that Yang and his campaign made a lot more noise than most political observers expected. He campaigned on issues, such as rising levels of automation, that other candidates largely ignored. He raised a decent amount of money, too. And he garnered more support, according to national polls, than a lot of other candidates. In December, for example, Yang qualified for a debate that Cory Booker failed to make — even though the New Jersey senator had been hyped as a potential presidential candidate for more than a decade.

Yang built an enthusiastic, if small, base of supporters. It’s hard to quantify, but it’s probably fair to say that Yang increased both the number of Americans who know what a universal basic income is and the number of those who support establishing one.

Still, it was clear that Yang didn’t have a path to victory. He never really consistently earned above 5 percent in national polls.

He didn’t get many notable endorsements, either. He got about 5 percent of the first-alignment popular vote in Iowa, well behind the leading contenders, and managed only 3 percent of the vote in New Hampshire.

His departure from the race continues the whitening of the Democratic field, which has included four black candidates, two Asian Americans and one Latino. Of that group, Yang was the only person to have qualified for the last presidential debate. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is still in the race, but she has little chance of winning and is a long shot to qualify for future debates. The focus on electability has probably hurt the minority candidates. (“Electability” has basically come to mean someone who can appeal to white, working-class voters in states like Wisconsin.) And perhaps starting the campaign in overwhelmingly white Iowa and New Hampshire didn’t help them either.

But white or nonwhite, so many people ran for the Democratic nomination in 2020 that some of them were bound to fail. Twelve white men have also dropped out after gaining little traction.

I doubt Yang is done with politics, though. You could imagine him running for mayor of New York, or perhaps governor. Or you could imagine him being nominated to a Cabinet post, such as Commerce secretary. “We’ll be back,” the 45-year-old said in a Twitter post after the announcement that his campaign was over.

The other person who dropped out Tuesday night, Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, wasn’t as compelling a candidate as Yang. Bennet ran as a center-left alternative to Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, emphasizing that Democrats needed to win over more swing voters — like many of the other white men who have dropped out, he never managed to gain traction. Indeed, Bennet never really made any gains in national polls:

He qualified for the first two debates in the summer, when the polling and donor thresholds to get in were the most forgiving. But he didn’t qualify for another debate all cycle, and he struggled to attract donors. He essentially skipped Iowa to concentrate on New Hampshire, but he got less than 1 percent of the vote in the Granite State.

Bennet didn’t necessarily do anything wrong — former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar simply gained more traction as center-left candidates.

Finally, former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick quit the race Wednesday morning. He, like Bennet, had made New Hampshire the focus of his campaign but got less than 1 percent of the vote.

Patrick’s biggest problem was that he entered the race in November — months after the campaign had started in earnest. He never qualified for a debate and, unlike former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who also started his campaign less than three months ago, Patrick isn’t a billionaire who can spend millions on television ads to raise his profile. I assume he thought he could win despite a late start because of his unique profile — the former governor of a state neighboring New Hampshire; a black man who might have special appeal to a core bloc of the party; and a center-left candidate who was not as liberal as Sanders or Warren. The struggles of Sen. Kamala Harris, Bennet, Booker and Warren (among others) in this race suggest that none of those characteristics — being from a neighboring state, being center-left or being black — individually guaranteed success. And combining all those attributes in a single person apparently wasn’t that exciting to voters either.

UPDATE (Feb. 12, 2020, 12:36 p.m.): This article has been updated with the news that Deval Patrick suspended his campaign.

CORRECTION (Feb. 13, 2020, 5:45 p.m.): A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to Tulsi Gabbard as a former representative. She is still serving in Congress, though she says she is not planning to run for reelection.

Perry Bacon Jr. was a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight.