- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 1, 2019

Steve Marchand was all-in for Sen. Bernard Sanders four years ago, but in this presidential election race he is a member of the Yang Gang — the band of enthusiastic supporters of Andrew Yang, the entrepreneur whom many see as the natural evolution of Mr. Sanders‘ 2015 message.

They are fighting it out on the battlefield of ideas, but Mr. Yang also has a bit of the Sanders magic in his grassroots appeal, said Mr. Marchand, pointing to the crowds showing up at events looking for someone who can challenge the Democratic Party establishment.

“There is an influx of people who are clearly outside the traditional system but are absolutely willing to go through a wall for an exciting candidate,” Mr. Marchand said. “That is what you saw with Sen. Sanders in 2016.”

The scrapping between the Yang Gang and Bernie Bros is one of the more fascinating fights in the 2020 field, with Mr. Yang, the newcomer, making a serious play for liberal and disenchanted voters who backed the maverick senator the last time.

That includes Mr. Yang himself.

“I was a Bernie supporter in 2016,” Mr. Yang joked at a recent campaign stop. “But now I’m here, and I am younger, fresher, more modern, more Asian, more tech-savvy than Bernie.

“I am like the Bernie of 2020,” he said.

The elder, whiter Mr. Sanders pushed back last week by saying Mr. Yang’s chief policy plan, a government-guaranteed universal basic income, isn’t the panacea Mr. Yang and his followers believe.

Mr. Sanders counters the guaranteed government payout with his own expansive promises, including a federal jobs guarantee and, of course, his signature “Medicare for All” universal health care plan.

Self-professed 2016 Sanders backers flooded chatrooms and messaging boards to testify to their conversion to Yangism.

“As an ex-Bernie supporter, I love both Bernie and Yang but I also believe Yang is the better of the two,” Reddit user “JustInvoke” posted.

“Stevenwernercs” chimed in that he didn’t understand the acrimony between the Yang Gang and Bernie Bros, saying the senator from Vermont was “our best hope, until we got … the latest software update.

“No need to hate on the guy and the people that haven’t heard about Yang and still follow Bernie,” they said. “We just need to respectfully inform them about Yang and that we can upgrade.”

Others ventured that Mr. Yang is “better at the internet than Bernie,” “Definitely a bigger gamer than Bernie” and “Probably better in math too.” They said he was “less angry,” “more Asian” and “fresher.”

So far, Mr. Sanders‘ bigger threat for voters on the left appears to be Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Mr. Yang received only 3% support in a recent Suffolk University national poll.

David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, however, said Mr. Yang has room to grow and pointed to softer Sanders supporters as fertile ground.

“If Yang were looking for a pool of voters among the front-runners to target, Sanders voters would be the prime target,” he said.

The Yang camp is keeping tabs.

“Certainly one the of the most preeminent groups in the base of voters who we think are going to be very attracted to Andrew’s message are people who supported Sen. Sanders in 2016 and for a variety of reasons are uncommitted to him at this point,” said Mr. Marchand, a former New Hampshire gubernatorial candidate who is serving as a top adviser to Mr. Yang in the state.

Mr. Yang is running under the slogan “Make America Think Harder,” or MATH, and enveloping his plan in a post-partisan message of “Not left, not right, forward.”

“I’m building a coalition of disaffected Trump voters, independents, libertarians and conservatives as well as Democrats and progressives,” he said in the Democrats’ second debate.

The 44-year-old is polling well enough, and raking in contributions successfully enough, to qualify for the third debate next week in Houston. That means he already has outlasted higher-profile politicians such as Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, who dropped out of the race, and he is ahead of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, who didn’t make the debate stage.

“He’s clearly at that level that is approaching a springboard,” Mr. Paleologos said. “You don’t get to the springboard unless you are generating some kind of heat, some kind of internal momentum. He is at the point that if he makes a credible showing in the debate he is going to be looked at more serious.”

Like Mr. Sanders‘ demand for a Medicare for All health care plan in 2016, Mr. Yang is likely to go as far as his own “big idea” will carry him.

That idea is his “Freedom Dividend,” a plan for the government to dole out $1,000 per month to every single citizen as guaranteed income. He says it’s a response to the automation that has eliminated millions of retail and manufacturing jobs and the rise of tech giants such as Amazon that have hollowed out local businesses while paying nothing in net taxes.

Mr. Sanders, asked about Mr. Yang’s plan last week, told The Hill that he preferred a federal job guarantee instead.

Mr. Yang suggested it was a head-scratching response.

“Bernie ignores the facts that money in our hands would 1) create hundreds of thousands of local jobs and 2) recognize and reward the nurturing work being done in our homes and communities every day,” he said in a Twitter post. “He also assumes that everyone wants to work for the government, which isn’t true.”

The Yang message has hit home with Kati Bainter, an independent from Ankeny, Iowa, who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 after backing Barack Obama twice.

She sees Mr. Yang as a solutions-oriented political outsider.

“I’m Yang Gang 2020,” Ms. Bainter said after listening to Mr. Yang at the Iowa State Fair. “I think our country is very broken now politically and it is a time for our country to come together and unite, and I think he can do that.”

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