Is Andrew Yang ‘Too Nice’ to Beat President Trump?

CONCORD, N.H. — It is a backhanded compliment Andrew Yang has received before, and one that a New Hampshire voter paid him again on Friday as Mr. Yang was campaigning and trying to raise his profile in the 21-candidate Democratic field.

“You’re too nice,” a man told Mr. Yang. “You need to be meaner.”

As his better-known rivals like Senator Kamala Harris of California and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. have ratcheted up their attacks of President Trump, Mr. Yang, the former tech executive promising to give Americans $12,000 a year, has portrayed himself as a math-obsessed, solution-focused nerd who would be an ideal foil to the president.

But, in part because Mr. Yang is nice — he peppers his stump speech with jokes and the occasional self-deprecating remark — voters have sometimes questioned his pleasant demeanor and whether he can effectively spar with Mr. Trump or even political firebrands on the left like Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

“I’m very passionate about how we can improve Americans’ day-to-day lives, and that’s where I’m focused,” Mr. Yang told dozens of voters inside a packed New Hampshire coffee shop on Friday. “But to the extent anyone has a vicious agenda that tries to keep that from happening — I’ll fight.”

At a restaurant pub Friday night in Portsmouth, N.H., David Ho, a 27-year-old data scientist, said he had been drawn to Mr. Yang because of their shared Asian-American heritage, but worried that the candidate was too soft-spoken compared with his rivals and could struggle to compete with Mr. Trump.

At the same time, Mr. Ho said, it is possible Mr. Yang is falling victim to false stereotypes that paint Asian-Americans as “reserved and submissive,” as Mr. Ho put it.

“My primary concern about him is he doesn’t do the whole emotional rah-rah speech most politicians do,” Mr. Ho said. “You have to be logical and willing to listen to support him, and a lot of people aren’t willing to sit through policies and ideas.”

Mr. Yang’s policy vision as a candidate is built around the concept of providing $1,000 a month to every American, an idea known as universal basic income, which he describes as an essential safety net when automation and advanced artificial intelligence make millions of jobs obsolete.

Though he remains a relative unknown nationally, Mr. Yang is polling strongest in New Hampshire, where he has registered 2 percent support in a debate-qualifying survey ahead of more politically experienced opponents like Senator Kristen Gillibrand of New York and Julián Castro, the former housing secretary and former mayor of San Antonio.

“He’s my front-runner,” Neil Laraway, 37, said after hearing Mr. Yang speak Thursday night under a recreation center awning in Lebanon, N.H. Getting a basic income would be a “game changer” for him and his wife, Mr. Laraway added, because “we’re in an apartment complex where we feel like, we’re kind of stuck.”

“The jobs we work at are fine, but we can’t save enough to pursue a house,” he said, “and if one of our cars goes, we’d be screwed.”

Not everyone who met Mr. Yang left as impressed. Gaye Jacques, a Republican who said she was “shopping around” for a candidate to support in 2020 after being disappointed by Mr. Trump and his habit of tweeting, said she liked Mr. Yang’s free-money proposal, but noted: “I missed the part where he said where all the money is coming from.”

Still, Mr. Yang seems well aware of the desire among Democrats to nominate a candidate who can beat Mr. Trump. Mr. Biden kicked off his campaign with a video that attacked the president directly, and Ms. Harris has recently tried to reset her campaign by mixing tough talk about President Trump into her stump speech.

And on Friday, as he has throughout his campaign, Mr. Yang pitched himself as among the few candidates who can defeat the president, by appealing to Trump supporters and progressives alike. Even his low name recognition, Mr. Yang said, has a silver lining.

“I can grow and grow, and win the whole thing in a way that’s not true of some of the other candidates,” he said, before repeating a cliché that is especially true in his case. “But I need your help.”

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