Last week, when former Vice President Joe Biden launched his 2020 campaign, he jumped into the largest Democratic primary field ever, and raised the stakes on the question of who Democrats deem “electable” enough to unseat President Trump.
More than 200 people are running for president, including at least 20 Democrats whose backgrounds make them at least marginally plausible candidates for the nomination, raising the question of how many Americans can recognize even a few of them.
In mid-April, before Biden entered the race, Yahoo News interviewed a random sample of New Yorkers as they walked through Washington Square Park — in Greenwich Village, near New York University — asking them to identify photographs of the Democratic candidates and testing them on the pronunciation of their names.
Many were able to correctly name and identify major candidates like California Sen. Kamala Harris and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Some struggled with the pronunciation of names like Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and even New York’s own Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (with a soft ‘G’). Even “Tulsi Gabbard” gave some New Yorkers trouble, one interviewee calling her name “complicated,” although he correctly identified her as from Hawaii, while mistaking the office she holds (she is a member of Congress, not a senator).
“Names have a lot of cultural significance,” said another New Yorker. “Especially when it’s a person of color and you can’t get their name correctly, it’s kind of dehumanizing.”
One other contestant of “name that candidate” mistook New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who is African-American, for Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, who is white, but then got Bezos confused with Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple.
“Isn’t that Bezos? He looks like him,” she asked, noting that both of them are bald. “Is his last name Cook or his first name Tim?” another person said.
Then, stumped by a photo of former Rep. John Delaney of Maryland, she said, “Oh my gosh, all white men start to look alike after a while.”
Despite the diversity of the field, which as of the end of April includes six women (Harris, Klobuchar, Gillibrand, Gabbard, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and author Marianne Williamson), six people of color (Harris, Gabbard, Booker, former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, Mayor Wayne Messam and businessman Andrew Yang) and one out gay man (Buttigieg), when it comes to who Democratic voters want to put up against Trump in 2020, leading the pack in most polls are three straight white men: Biden, Sanders and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke.
But consistently numbered among them are Harris and Warren, who New Yorkers were quick to recognize by face and name. Still, frontrunner Biden, who directly attacked Trump in his announcement video, has the best name recognition — and one of the easiest names to pronounce.
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