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Andrew Yang talks messaging, caucus expectations and challenges

Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang speaks during a campaign event Jan. 5, 2020, at Cafe Dodici in Washington,
Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang speaks during a campaign event Jan. 5, 2020, at Cafe Dodici in Washington, Iowa. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

Andrew Yang says he is talking about the issues that led to President Donald Trump’s election, and he is resonating with voters who looked to Trump to address those issues.

Yang says that’s why Democrats should look to him as the party’s nominee to face Trump in this year’s general election.

“I’m solving the real problems that got Donald Trump elected in the first place,” Yang said in a recent interview. “And my solutions would work.”

Yang’s campaign probably has been one of the most unexpectedly successful ones. The entrepreneur from New York has managed to stick around longer than U.S. senators and governors, and he met debate qualifications for every round through December, although it looks like he will come up short for this month’s debate. And he had his most successful fundraising period in the final three months of 2019: more than $16.5 million, the fifth-best total in the field and more than Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker.

Yang said he thinks that’s because he is talking about the issues that voters care about most, such as lost manufacturing jobs that have hollowed out communities.

“The main thing is that I’m talking about the problems that we can see around us every day” he said. “I’ve been to those communities after the factory closed, the shopping district closed, people started leaving town. That pattern played out over and over again, not just here in Iowa, but also in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Missouri. …

“So when you talk about the problems that people see around them every day, they say, ‘Oh, yeah, that actually is the truth that speaks to my experience.’ ”

Yang said those issues are critical to discuss not only in the Democratic primary, but when looking ahead to the general election.

“Donald Trump’s solutions of turning the clock backward and bringing the old jobs back were empty promises, and most Iowans can see that. My vision is to share the gains of the 21st century economy with everyone,” Yang said.

Yang has proposed a universal basic income, or “freedom dividend,” a $1,000-per-month stipend for every American 18 or older, funded by the consolidation of welfare programs and a value-added tax on businesses.

“So I can peel off thousands of Trump voters who are unsure of whether they made the right decision, as well as independents, Libertarians and Democrats and progressives,” Yang said. “I can make areas that went to Trump competitive again for Democrats.”

For all of Yang’s staying power and recent fundraising success, he still has ground to make up to catch the front-runners. As of Friday, his polling average was 2.3 percent, well behind the front-running pack between 15 and 22 percent, according to Real Clear Politics.

Yang said he thinks his campaign is peaking at the right time — just before the Feb. 3 caucuses — and his goal for caucus night is to be on the leaderboard when the results are announced.

“We want to be on that TV screen when they show the results,” Yang said. “But the great thing is, we’ve exceeded expectations at every stage of the campaign. And so our expectations are probably different than those of some of the other candidates.”

Yang has been successful in part with Iowans who are not typically tuned into the political process. Wooing that type of electorate brings unique challenges in a caucus vs. a primary. But Yang said his team is working to secure caucus commitments from all types of supporters, both political veterans and newcomers.

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“We have a team dedicated to doing just that where, if you’re excited about me and the campaign, we’re going to tell you where you need to go on February 3, what you need to do when you get there. That’s the kind of attention to detail that makes a difference,” Yang said. “We’re very cognizant of the fact that that if you’re not a longtime caucusgoer, some of the process can seem very unfamiliar. We want to connect people to that last mile.”

Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government for Lee Enterprises. His email address is erin.murphy@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @ErinDMurphy.

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