UPDATE 1-U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Yang raises $16.5 mln in Q4 for bid

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Jan 2 (Reuters) - Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Andrew Yang raised $16.5 million in the fourth quarter, his campaign said on Thursday, well ahead of the nearly $10 million he collected in the third quarter.

The total is expected to land him among the top fundraisers in the Democratic field, which has 15 contenders seeking to take on U.S. President Donald Trump in the November 2020 election.

Yang’s collection falls well short of that from Bernie Sanders, who raised more than $34.5 million in the last quarter of 2019, and Pete Buttigieg who raised $24.7 million in the same period.

Fundraising numbers are closely watched to assess whether campaigns are collecting the cash needed to be competitive.

Asian-American Yang was the only ethnic minority candidate to qualify for the last Democratic debate in December.

His candidacy for U.S. president - and his campaign promise to guarantee every American a basic, government-funded income - was initially dismissed by many but then he saw a rise in public opinion polls. His $10 million fundraising haul in the third quarter was the sixth-highest among Democrats.

The Ivy League-educated son of Taiwanese immigrants, who would be the country’s first Asian-American president, has centered his message on the theme that automation is destroying U.S. jobs and that his “Freedom Dividend” is the best way to mitigate the damage.

The message has particularly resonated with young, male Democrats, independents and some Republicans, according to Reuters/Ipsos polls. (Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; editing by John Stonestreet, William Maclean)