Fluorescent shipping containers, billiard tables atop AstroTurf, and his signature "MATH" campaign signs plastered to the walls greeted Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang on Thursday night at a fundraiser in downtown San Francisco.
Hundreds of supporters braved a torrential downpour and a line that wrapped around city blocks to see the entrepreneur and nonprofit executive, who has attracted a wave of contributions from small-money donors.
The top ticket for Thursday's event? $5,600, which featured a VIP reception hosted by California Assemblyman Evan Low. The fundraiser also featured a performance by Chinese-American comedian Joe Wang — one of several celebrities who have backed Yang, alongside Dave Chappelle and Donald Glover.
Yang was absent from this week's seventh Democratic primary debate after failing to meet the polling threshold. But he still managed to be the fourth-most-tweeted-about candidate during the debate. Yang raised $16.5 million in the fourth quarter of last year, his best three-month total to date. Yet, he's still trailing the rest of the pack, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who brought in $34.5 million.
And, despite not making it to the debate stage on Tuesday, Yang's campaign said that the candidate still raised over $1 million this week.
In an exclusive interview with CNBC ahead of the fundraiser, Yang discussed a range of topics — from the stock market's recent run to the threat of a recession, and even Baby Yoda. He cautioned a slight downturn was " very likely" this year and sounded off on what he called a "frothy" private market.
"Did you see what happened at WeWork?" Yang said. "And they're not alone."
"They need to step up and verify the facts and truth of the ads that they have on their platform," Yang said. "Cable networks do it. Why can't they?"
In a 20-minute speech to his supporters at the event, Yang touted his signature campaign proposal, a "freedom dividend" that would give all Americans, 18 and older, $1,000 per month in universal basic income.
Despite slipping in recent polls, Yang also vowed to continue to fight for the nomination – eyeing strong support in California, one of the Super Tuesday states holding primaries on March 3.
Notable Silicon Valley tech titans were absent from Yang's event, as fellow Democratic candidate Mike Bloomberg hosted his own event at a gallery nearby in San Francisco's SoMa neighborhood. Recode reported Thursday that venture capitalist Ron Conway was among the industry leaders in attendance there. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and Linkedin co-founder Reid Hoffman were among the other top executives Bloomberg's campaign has approached. Two tech veterans, former Foursquare CEO Jeff Glueck and former Facebook chief marketing officer Gary Briggs are managing the Bloomberg's campaign's digital operations.
Still, Yang has attracted his fair share of Silicon Valley power brokers. Sam Altman, president of prominent startup incubator Y Combinator, hosted a fundraiser for Yang back in November. Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey has donated to Yang's campaign, while Tesla CEO Elon Musk publicly endorsed the candidate, arguing universal basic income is "obviously needed."
Asked to compare his event to Bloomberg's on Thursday, Yang said he was sure it was "very different" but declined to elaborate further.
Here are excerpts taken from a rapid-fire style Q&A, which have been edited and condensed:
Q: Big tech — regulate or break up?
A: You can't oversimplify to that extent...you need to actually dig in and solve the problems they're concerned about.
Q: Fed Chair Powell's tenure thus far — approve or disapprove?
A: Somewhere in between, I'd say.
Q: Recession in 2020 — likely or unlikely?
A: I'd say a slight downturn in 2020 is very likely.
Q: What would you do to combat it if so?
A: I would start putting more economic buying power into people's hands so that we have a trickle-up economy.
Q: Facebook political ad policy — yay or nay?
A: They need to step up and verify the facts and truth of the ads that they have on their platform. Cable networks do it. Why can't Facebook?
Q: Private markets — frothy or not?
A: Definitely frothy. I mean...Did you see what happened at WeWork? And they're not alone.
Q: Harder job — Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg or Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos?
A: Wow, they both have very hard jobs. But I'm going to say Zuckerberg.
Q: Apple's priority — privacy or national security?
A: I don't think that's an either or. I think you can draw a balance between the two.
Q: Huawei's threat — exaggerated or underappreciated?
A: It's real. So, I don't know if that means it's underappreciated...but it's real.
Q: Instagram or TikTok?
A: Instagram...I joke that TikTok is for people who find Instagram too intellectual.
Q: Star Wars or Star Trek?
A: Still Star Wars, even after that last movie.
Q: So you like The Mandalorian?
A: I've been too much on the campaign trail to get into the Baby Yoda phenomenon. But I'm sure I'd enjoy it...people tell me it's great.
Q: Robots — friend or foe?
A: We want to make them our friends, so the quickest way to do that would be to give everyone $1,000 a month so they would all be excited about the robots.
Q: iPhone or Android?
A: iPhone at this point. I was an Android fan for years. So, Android users...no hate...love.
Q: If you don't win the candidacy and the election, how do you continue to advance your agenda? What's the next step?
A: The problems are going to be here until we solve them. So, I would look forward to working with the next administration...hopefully a Democratic administration..in some capacity to solve the problems. Ideally, I'll be the president. If I'm not the president, I'm sure there'll be many people I can work with.
Q: Would you rule out working with a Republican administration?
A: If it's a Republican administration, it means that Trump has been reelected. And I don't have a whole lot of confidence in this administration's ability to address many of these problems. But, bigger picture...would I work with Republicans? Of course.
Q: Last question...will the Dow be at 30,000 by the end of the year?
A: I'm not bullish on where the market is right now.