He raised tens of millions, qualified for all but one Democratic debate, and laid claim to a devoted fan following: the so-called Yang Gang.
But entrepreneur Andrew Yang, the self-declared “Asian math guy”, has suspended his presidential bid after a lacklustre finish in the New Hampshire primary.
While his White House dreams have dimmed, the politically novice Mr Yang managed to out-perform many of the seasoned politicians in the field.
Announcing his departure from the 2020 race Tuesday night, he told supporters: “While we did not win this election, we are just getting started. This is the beginning. This movement is the future of American politics.”
But where exactly does that leave the Yang Gang, and where will they go next?
Who is Andrew Yang?
The tech entrepreneur was virtually unknown when he entered the Democratic race more than two years ago, in November 2017. But the story of Mr Yang’s long-shot campaign is one of unexpected success. He outlasted a New York City mayor, former and current governors and several prominent US senators, including Cory Booker and Kamala Harris.
Casting himself as a political outsider, Mr Yang used his signature self-deprecating humour to sell his chief campaign proposal: universal basic income. He proposed a $1,000 (£770.00) monthly “freedom dividend” to all Americans between the ages of 18 and 64 as a financial cushion against job losses due to increased automation.
At a Democratic debate in September, Mr Yang announced he would be giving away a total of $120,000 throughout the year to 10 American families, as part of a pilot programme for the freedom dividend.
Mr Yang’s atypical approach earned him a loyal following – especially among young people – who travelled to campaign for him for around the country.
According to a January Morning Consult poll, 71% of his supporters were under the age of 45 – compared to 42% of Democratic primary voters overall – outstripping even Bernie Sanders, the septuagenarian Vermont senator famously adored by young voters.
He warned against the dangers of automation and emphasised data-driven solutions, drawing support from famous Silicon Valley figures like Tesla’s Elon Musk and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey.
Comedian Dave Chapelle, rapper Childish Gambino and actor Nicolas Cage were among the celebrities who backed him.
When Mr Yang announced he was leaving the race, Mr Dorsey tweeted that he was “Really sad Andrew is dropping out.”
Mr Yang was “an incredibly authentic person who was focused on solving the big existential problems facing the world,” Mr Dorsey wrote. “#yanggangforever.”
Farewell to the leader of the ‘Yang Gang’
Zhaoyin Feng, BBC Chinese Service, Washington
Yang opened a new chapter of history as the first prominent Asian-American presidential candidate.
“If Yang were white, I believe he’d be even more popular than Pete Buttigieg now, as Yang has unique ideas,” Bing Zhang, a Chinese-American Yang supporter told me. But, he said, Yang’s campaign had far exceeded the expectations of many people.
Yang won support from both progressives and conservatives, from former supporters of Bernie Sanders to former Donald Trump voters.
His exit means the presidential race now has one less candidate from a racial minority. And the remaining presidential hopefuls will try to grab Yang’s relatively small but very young and energetic base.
Mr Yang also mobilised Asian Americans, who have been traditionally among the least active voters, though participation is rising.
According to the non-partisan Pew Research Centre, about 40% of Asian Americans voted in the 2018 midterms – about a 13% increase from 2014 but still among the lowest of all ethnic groups in the US.
Mr Yang’s has been the among most prominent presidential campaign run by an Asian American candidate.
Will Hsu, a Wisconsin farmer, told BBC that he saw something of himself in Mr Yang.
Like the candidate, Mr Hsu’s parents were Taiwanese immigrants.
Though he leans Republican, “If you had put me in the ballot box with Yang on the Democratic ticket and Trump on the Republican ticket, I would have voted Yang,” Mr Hsu said.
So where will the Yang Gang go now?
After Mr Yang left the race, Twitter was flooded with tributes from his young followers, declaring their continued devotion to the Yang Gang. Some vowed to vote for him anyway as a write-in candidate, others circulated the hashtag #Yang2024.
“I dropped out of school to do this, my passion for Yang is growing every single day,” Kai Watson, an university-age student, told his 9,000 Yang Gang YouTube channel subscribers.
“This is just the beginning,” he said. “I cannot wait for what’s to come.”
However, Mr Yang’s departure from the race bodes ill for Democrats.
Many of the supporters who rallied to him were new to the political process, and had no party affiliation before supporting his campaign.
For someone like Mr Hsu, without Mr Yang in the race may mean abandoning the Democratic field altogether.
“I don’t know that there’s a candidate that I can identity with on the Democratic side,” he said. “It’s really tough right now.”
An Emerson College poll from late January found that 42% of Yang supporters would refuse to support any other Democratic nominee.
Out of the nine percent of supporters who said they were willing to switch, 30% said they would back Joe Biden and 27% said they would support Mr Sanders. Mr Yang supported the senator in 2016.
While his candidacy is over, Mr Yang’s run has shifted the political conversation. Support among Democrats for universal basic income, for example, jumped from 54% to 66% between February 2018 and September 2019 – loosely mirroring Mr Yang’s ascent to the public stage.
And while it didn’t translate into votes, future candidates may consider how, and why, he inspired such devotion – a loyalty seemingly noticed by Bernie Sanders surrogate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who commended Mr Yang on “a great race”, and praised his trademark policy by name.
“Your campaign focused on the future,” wrote the progressive New York congresswoman on Twitter. “Thank you for bringing up ideas like [Universal Basic Income] and opening a discourse on how we better value undervalued work like caregiving.”
The statement may be strategic.
Supporters of Mr Yang – who branded himself as a political outsider – may be most likely to gravitate to Bernie Sanders, the other anti-establishment candidate who also has appealed to youthful voters looking for a change from traditional Democratic politics, says the BBC’s Anthony Zurcher.
As for the former candidate, Mr Yang’s departure announcement came with a heavy hint that he would be back on the public stage.
“We have touched and improved millions of lives and moved this country we love so much in the right direction,” he said on Tuesday, later tweeting: “We’ll be back”.
His next move is not yet clear, but campaign officials said they believe there is room for a political comeback.
He has been approached by other campaigns for endorsements, according to US media, and the entrepreneur told CNN he would be “honoured” to serve as someone’s running mate.
“I wouldn’t rule anything out,” he said.