Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet and upstart Andrew Yang ended their long-shot presidential bids Tuesday, failing to break out of a crowded Democratic field dominated by a cacophony of other moderate and outsider voices.
Bennet, 55, was a late entrant to the race who staked his bid largely on trying to win New Hampshire. He only formally announced his candidacy in late April, after completing treatment for prostate cancer. He was the seventh senator and second white Colorado moderate to join the field, which made it difficult for him to stand out.
“We weren’t able to get much in the way of name identification in the state,” Bennet said shortly after polls closed in New Hampshire. “We didn’t have the resources to compete. … I’m frustrated because I think we did have something to contribute in terms of the agenda.”
Bennet ran on a centrist platform and made a point of bucking the trend among some candidates for splashy, liberal proposals. Instead of embracing “Medicare for All” and free college, Bennet ran on what he called his “Real Deal” platform of more modest but still ambitious goals. Those included annual payments of at least $3,000 to families with children under age 18, allowing people to buy into an expanded form of Medicare and a $1 trillion housing affordability plan.
Bennet’s mother is Jewish and he did not shy on the campaign trail from using her story of being separated from her family and hiding during the Holocaust to attest to his stance on immigration.
“I think she’s mostly seen it at the separation of families at the border,” he told The Times of Israel in October. “That’s a very personal thing for her. I wouldn’t want to overextend the analogy or the metaphor, but I think that’s where she really sees that. And I think she does see Trump as a tyrant.”
But while his articulate and passionate centrism won plaudits from pundits and experienced Democratic professionals, Bennet struggled to register in the polls and he hovered in the bottom tier of the field even as he campaigned more in New Hampshire than other candidates, with 50 town halls in the final ten weeks. After July, Bennet never polled high enough or raised enough money to qualify for the debate stage again.
The main obstacle to Bennet was Biden, who as the moderate with establishment backing took up the space that the Colorado senator’s campaign was counting on. Bennet’s late entry also hobbled him. Because of his cancer diagnosis, he had to delay his candidacy, and he barely qualified for the first presidential debate. Bennet quickly began pushing back against the Democratic National Committee’s increasingly stringent debate qualification rules, complaining it was an unfair advantage for the staples of cable television who had been campaigning months, or even years, earlier.
In the end he staked his bet on the path blazed by his political mentor, former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart, who scored a surprise win in New Hampshire in the 1984 Democratic presidential primary and almost won the nomination. Bennet pledged to hold 50 town halls in New Hampshire during the final weeks of the campaign and spent almost every spare moment there.
Early numbers out of New Hampshire showed him polling at zero percent, with less than 50 percent reporting.
Math doesn’t add up for Yang
Yang, an entrepreneur who created buzz for his presidential campaign by talking about his love of math and championing a universal basic income that would give every American adult $1,000 per month, suspended his 2020 bid on Tuesday.
Early poll numbers showed him garnering just around 3 percent of the vote in New Hampshire’s primary.
“I am the math guy, and it is clear to me from the numbers that we are not going to win this race,” Yang said in front of a crowd of supporters as votes in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary were being counted.
“This is not an easy decision, or something I made lightly with the team. Endings are hard and I’ve always had the intention to stay in the race until the very end,” he added. “ But I have been persuaded that the message of this campaign will not be strengthened by my staying in the race any longer.”
The 45-year-old was one of the breakout stars of the Democratic primary race, building a following that started largely online but expanded to give him enough donors and polling numbers to qualify for the first six debates. Yang announced his departure from the race shortly before Bennet did Tuesday night, bringing the Democratic field to single digits.
He outlasted senators and governors, and after initially self-funding his campaign, he raised more money than most of his rivals, bringing in over $16 million in the final quarter of last year. It was a bigger haul than all but the top four candidates: Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
“We went from a mailing list that started with just my Gmail contact list to receiving donations from over 400,000 people around the country and millions more who supported this campaign,” Yang said before pledging to support whoever becomes the Democratic nominee.
Yang grew his outsider candidacy by campaigning as a non-politician, someone who mixed unconventional campaign events — from bowling to ax throwing — with serious talk about the millions of jobs lost to automation and artificial intelligence and the dark outlook for American jobs and communities.
The graduate of Brown University and Columbia Law School gave campaign speeches full of statistics and studies that often resembled an economics seminar. His supporters, known as the Yang Gang, donned blue hats and pins with the word MATH — short for his slogan Make America Think Harder.
Yang promoted his signature issue of universal basic income, which he dubbed the “freedom dividend,” by announcing during a debate that he would choose individuals to receive the monthly $1,000 checks. The statement prompted questions about whether he was trying to buy votes, but also generated a buzz online and helped the campaign build a list of possible supporters.
His poll numbers were high enough, combined with his fundraising strength, to qualify for him for all of the 2019 debates, though he fell short of Democratic National Committee’s qualifications to participate in the January debate in Iowa. He was, however, one of seven candidates who participated in Friday’s debate in New Hampshire. His departure from the race almost guarantees that the Democrats, who once had the most diverse presidential field in history, will have no candidates of color on the debate stage again this cycle.
Yang spent most of January in the leadoff caucus state, including a 17-day bus tour during which he told voters his finish in Iowa would “shock the world.”
Eric Cortellessa and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.