MANCHESTER, NEW HAMPSHIRE/LAS VEGAS, NEVADA — Two thousand “Vote for Tulsi” door hangers will arrive soon at Eileen Tepper's Bronx, New York apartment.  But she’s not sure what to do with them. Her candidate, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, dropped out of the Democratic presidential race on March 19.

Tepper made eleven road trips, driving 400 miles north from New York to New Hampshire during the campaign, in support of Gabbard.  She stood for hours at a booth inside a New Hampshire sports arena, her hands resting on a stack of navy hoodies reading “Tulsi 2020.”

“I’ve never really done anything like this before in my life,” the energetic curly-haired blonde, told VOA in the midst of Gabbard’s campaign.

Her candidate’s polling in the low single digits did not faze Tepper. During the campaign, Gabbard won just two delegates, both from American Samoa, of the nearly 4,000 available nationwide.

‘I dreamed a Tulsi dream’

Tepper is a Broadway performer, who took a hiatus during America’s 2020 campaign season. Her YouTube contribution to the campaign #WhyTulsi was a Gabbard tribute song to the tune of “I Dreamed a Dream” from the musical Les Miserables.

Eileen Tepper, left, and other supporters greet a voter asking about issues supported by now former Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard. Gabbard dropped out of the race March 19. (Carolyn Presutti/VOA)

Effects of coronavirus

Once COVID-19 curtailed travel, Tepper moved to campaigning through social media. But with Gabbard’s run ending, she says she mourns the loss of her online campaign community, “especially at a time where online community is all so many of us have.”

COVID-19 has disrupted America’s presidential primary process, and some former contenders are reaching out to their supporters – not just to channel their political activism but also to urge them to heed health warnings and help block the spread of the virus.

“In any other kind of national disaster, we would rush to gather together,” former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg wrote in an email to backers of his now-defunct presidential campaign. “But this time, we must do something truly new: find a way to come together even while being kept physically apart.”

‘I’d carry debt for Andrew Yang’

Elsewhere, four young voters from different parts of the United States stood outside a polling site, holding signs and handing out hats for presidential candidate Andrew Yang.

“I wouldn’t carry debt for myself, but I’d carry debt for Andrew Yang,” says Macaulay Kong.  The 27-year old - whose dad is Malaysian and mom Taiwanese - quit his job in Los Angeles and started traveling to Iowa, Oregon, and Nevada with “the Yang Gang” - supporters of Yang. 

Macaulay Kong holds up a campaign sign in support of then-Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, at a primary polling site. The "Yang Gang" continued to campaign for him even after he dropped out of the race. (Carolyn Presutti/VOA)

Just one problem. Yang dropped out of the race Feb. 11 and became a CNN political commentator.  He has endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden, who now has a commanding lead in the delegate race over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Yet some of Yang’s most fervent supporters continued to campaign for him and his idea of a $1,000 a month universal basic income handout.  Kong had never voted before and chose Yang even after he suspended his candidacy.  “I’m a registered Republican all my life…and I switched to Democrat to vote for Andrew Yang,” Kong says.

Protest vote

“When a candidate has already dropped out, [residual support is] essentially a protest vote,” says political science professor Justin Buchler of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, adding that voters who cling to candidates no longer in the running usually are unhappy with the remaining candidates still in the race.

Even so, Buchler predicts passionate voters who spent weeks or months serving as grassroots organizers for their favored candidate will continue to work as activists for the Democratic party and will vote for the eventual nominee in November.