Speaking to reporters later that day, Mr. Yang was asked if he would consider running for mayor of New York City. “I wouldn’t rule anything out,” he said.
Early in his campaign — sometimes in front of audiences of a few dozen people or less — Mr. Yang, the Schenectady, N.Y.-born former head of a test-prep company and a nonprofit organization, often sounded the alarm about what he called the “fourth industrial revolution.” Automation, he warned, would bring mass unemployment, chaos and even violence if no remedy were pursued; free money combined with a more human economic system, he argued, would buffer American society against its worst effects and help restore people’s dignity.
The candidate and a small campaign staff labored in relative obscurity for about a year until February 2019, when Mr. Yang went on a popular podcast and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars overnight. From there, he began a slow but steady rise, raising millions of dollars each quarter and moving from less than 1 percent in the polls to 4 and 5 percent early this year. His political operation grew and formalized.
Unlike several more experienced candidates, Mr. Yang qualified for all of the 2019 Democratic debates, and he appeared to grow more comfortable on the trail and the debate stages. At a debate in the fall, moderators asked the candidates about automation, a moment of pride for Mr. Yang.
By the time the Iowa caucuses arrived, Mr. Yang was one of just 11 people in the field, which had at one point ballooned to two dozen.
But Mr. Yang’s modest rise also coincided with increased scrutiny of his policy proposals, his past treatment of employees and his handling of topics like race and gender. The news media began digging into the cost of his universal basic income proposal; he was criticized for saying at a debate, “I am Asian, so I know a lot of doctors”; and he faced claims of gender discrimination from campaign volunteers and past employees.
Still, when Mr. Yang ostensibly kicked off his campaign in February 2018 by announcing it in an article in The New York Times, few would have expected him to make a run so deep into the primary.