BALTIMORE — On a recent sunny afternoon in this solidly Democratic city, Rodney Gray vented frustration with his own party for allowing white men to dominate the 2020 presidential primary race.
“Biden hasn’t endured what we’ve endured,” said Mr. Gray, who is black. He was referring to former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, who leads the Democratic race in most polls. “I want somebody who comes from where we come from. If that person didn’t endure what we endured, I’m not voting for them.”
Yet when asked for whom he would vote if his state’s primary were held today, the 60-year-old Mr. Gray did not hesitate. “Biden,” he said.
Despite the most diverse presidential field in history, white men dominate the polling. Mr. Biden and Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont captured 55% of the vote in a Morning Consult poll released this week.
Add in Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas, and the white males near 70% support in the national survey.
Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California, who is black, edged out Mr. O’Rourke for third place with 9% of the vote. She is among four women, a black man, a Hispanic man and a man of Asian heritage in the race whose combined share of the vote in the Morning Consult poll was just 23%.
The phenomena raised eyebrows mostly because the Democratic Party fashions itself a bastion of diversity.
Democrats took immense pride in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected as the nation’s first black president. They put even greater emphasis on electing women and minority candidates after the rise of President Trump and boasted the most diverse freshman class in history when they won the House majority in the midterms.
Top contenders for the party’s presidential nomination have labeled Mr. Trump a racist, frequently alluded to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights crusade and aired their support for policies, including reparations for descendants of slaves, that resonate with black activists.
Party officials now grapple with voters who repeatedly side with white men in the 2020 lineup.
People are taking note that white men top the polls and rise faster than some of their rivals, said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.
Other polls have shown similar preferences.
A Monmouth poll released Thursday showed Democratic voters in the leadoff caucus state of Iowa giving the top three spots to Mr. Biden with 26%, Mr. Sanders with 16% and the openly homosexual Mr. Buttigieg third at 9%.
“It will be ironic if the Democratic nomination comes down to a couple of straight white men given the direction the party is going, but it is still way too early to think about that as a possibility,” Mr. Murray said.
In New Hampshire, home of the country’s first primary election, a St. Anselm College poll released Thursday showed the same three white men leading the pack.
Democratic Party insiders quickly dismissed the lopsided results, saying it is too early to put stock in polls.
Voters are just starting to learn about the candidates and are more interested in defeating Mr. Trump than anything else, said James Demers, a New Hampshire political operative who is advising the presidential campaign of Sen. Cory A. Booker of New Jersey.
Mr. Demers made the remark before the release of the St. Anselm poll, which showed Mr. Booker in seventh place with 4%.
“I learned a long time ago that campaigns are not about where you start; it’s where you finish,” he said, noting that the early Republican front-runners in the last election cycle flopped when it came time for votes to be cast.
“In the 2016 race, Jeb Bush and Chris Christie were proof of that,” Mr. Demers said.
Strong name recognition was the most common explanation for why Mr. Biden and Mr. Sanders took early leads.
“Remember, Bernie Sanders hasn’t stopped running for president and Joe Biden has not stopped circling the country as Barack Obama’s former vice president,” said Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic strategist in South Carolina, which ranks as the fourth nominating contest and the first primary in the South.
Despite high name recognition in her home state, Ms. Harris trailed Mr. Biden and Mr. Sanders in California, where she served as attorney general for six years before winning the 2016 Senate race.
A Quinnipiac University poll this week found California Democrats put Mr. Biden in front with 26%, followed by Mr. Sanders with 18% and Ms. Harris at 17%.
Confident that South Carolina’s black voters would play a decisive role in selecting the Democratic nominee, Mr. Seawright said the contest isn’t about race or sex.
“Most importantly, African Americans or people of color will have their say-so in deciding who our nominee is. How they choose their vote is up to them. That’s the beauty of our democracy, that’s the beauty of the democratic process and in particular the Democratic primary,” he said.
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