What's in a Name? We'll Soon Find Out

July 2006
Political campaigns are long, complicated affairs, but often the difference between winning and losing comes down to one simple factor: Name recognition. Most voters don't know a lot about every candidate they find on the ballot, and the further down the ballot they go, the less likely they are to know anything at all. All things being equal, the candidate who has the most recognizable name thus has a natural advantage in a political campaign. Just how big of an advantage a good name can carry will be tested in the August 8 primary. Two Denver-area candidates -- both of them Democrats -- are running for office with the benefit of sharing the last name of a former Colorado governor. Peggy Lamm, one of three candidates vying for the Democratic nomination in congressional district seven (which covers big chunks of Jefferson County, Adams County and Aurora), is the ex-sister-in-law of former Gov. Dick Lamm. Chris Romer, one of three Democrats running in state senate district 32 (Southwest Denver) is the son of former Gov. Roy Romer. It's hard to say which candidate has the better name for political office. Not only was Dick Lamm a former governor of Colorado, but his wife, Dottie, ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate a decade ago. Voters have thus been exposed to the Lamm name on several different occasions in a statewide race, which should be an added benefit for Peggy. Chris Romer, on the other hand, has the benefit of sharing a last name with Colorado's last Democratic governor. Roy Romer is a particularly beloved figure among hardcore Democrats -- exactly the sort of people who will be voting in August. Opponents of Lamm and Romer will say that voters are smart enough to know the difference between these candidates and their better-known predecessors, but that logic won't carry the day. Anybody who is making a sharp distinction between Peggy Lamm and Dottie Lamm is informed enough about the race that the name recognition factor won't play much of a role; but as I wrote before, somebody who does not know much about the candidates will instinctively gravitate toward the better-known name. Overall, I think Romer's name recognition will be more important than Lamm's, primarily because there will be much less attention paid to the state senate race than to the congressional race. But if the campaign in CD-7 comes down to the wire, Lamm's last name could put her over the top. What's in a name? We'll find out soon enough.