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Julián Castro’s Road to the White House Begins in Arizona

The former San Antonio mayor speaks with Phoenix Democrats while eyeing a run for president.

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Julian Castro, former secretary of U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD), left, looks on as U.S President Barack Obama speaks to employees at the Department of Housing and Urban Development on July 31, 2014 in Washington, D.C.
Andrew Harrer-Pool/Getty Images

Former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro has spent 2017 preparing for what now looks like an inevitable run for president. But for Castro, a Democrat, the road to the White House doesn’t pass through his deeply red home state. Instead, it winds through Arizona, where he is speaking this Saturday at the Maricopa County Democratic Party winter convention in Phoenix.

When the question of presidential candidacy has been put to Castro, he’s consistently demurred, but he has also said he’ll decide by the end of the year whether he wants to run. In the meantime, he’s created the “Opportunity First” political action committee (named for his favorite catchphrase) in order to raise money for other Democratic candidates, and one surefire way to cultivate a political base is to support candidates in those states needed to win the presidential primary.

Castro has also spent the fall completing a personal memoir that he’d put on hold while serving as President Obama’s housing secretary. Political memoirs by second tier presidential contenders don’t necessarily sell, but they do provide an excuse to travel the country, meet potential supporters, and hone a message without the kind of media scrutiny that inevitably comes with being a top candidate.

Though this has been a year of intensive planning, Castro’s campaign for the White House actually began in May 2015, with a not-so-quiet effort to become Hillary Clinton’s running mate. Youthful and telegenic, Castro was touted as the Latino Barack Obama—a political unknown who was thrust into national prominence by a Democratic National Convention keynote address and an autobiographical book tour.

The Castro camp has largely followed Obama’s script, even if they’ve been slightly less ambitious. Although relatively unknown nationally, in 2012 Castro became the first Latino to deliver the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. He then secured the deal to write a memoir, and President Obama chose him to serve as secretary of housing and urban development. Castro was clearly a rising star. Latino politicians from San Antonio to New York endorsed him for Clinton’s ticket, and Castro hosted a Latinos for Hillary event in San Antonio in October 2015. At a U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce meeting earlier that day, Clinton even hinted that he may become her vice presidential choice: “I am going to look really hard at him for anything, because that’s how good he is.”

But then Donald Trump, with his harsh rhetoric about building a border wall and deporting undocumented immigrants, changed her campaign calculus. Clinton believed courting the Hispanic vote was less urgent because Trump would motivate them himself. In addition, just days before Clinton made her vice president pick in July 2016, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel reported that Castro had violated the Hatch Act by promoting Clinton while serving as a public official. The night before Clinton announced U.S. Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia as her choice, campaign chair John Podesta called Castro to deliver the bad news: it wasn’t going to be him.

It’s disappointing, of course,” Castro told Dan Balz of the Washington Post, “but it’s also easy to put into perspective. When I was 30 years old, I lost a very close mayor’s race. At the time I was completely disappointed and crushed. But a few years later I came back and I became mayor of San Antonio and it actually worked out for the better.”

In Clinton’s campaign memoir, What Happened, Castro is not even mentioned by name. She merely writes that she chose Kaine as her running mate “out of a superb field of candidates.” But if Clinton had gone with Castro, he might have provided the boost needed to carry both Arizona and Florida, thereby tilting the Electoral College tally to a Clinton victory.

Yet whatever disappointments or missed opportunities Castro suffered in 2016, he is now looking forward to 2020. By the end of this year, he’s expected to announce that he’s exploring a run for the Democratic presidential nomination. Conventional wisdom suggests that Castro is really trying to position himself for another shot at vice president. But his long-time mentor, former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros, told me that Castro can’t settle on running for second place. If Castro runs, he must seek the top prize.

“I don’t think you run for vice president,” Cisneros said. “If you’re going to put your name on the line for president, you don’t want to do it halfway, and you don’t want to do it where you look bland and unenergetic, low energy. You’ve got to expend all your energy to look as good as you can for the country.”

Cisneros said Castro has a slew of qualities that make him attractive as a presidential candidate: he’s bright and knows the nuances of public policy; his values align with average Americans; he understands the changing national economy; and he is a man of high personal character. “I believe he feels like anything can happen in a year like this, in a period like this,” Cisneros said. “So, given the stakes and given the size of the prize, it’s worth pursuing the top prize.”

In early November, Castro told a Voto Latino conference in Austin, “There are three dozen Democrats that are looking, but I will tell you that we need a very different kind of president than we’ve had.”

Three dozen is a slight exaggeration, but Washington-based political reporters can easily conjure a list of 20 contenders, leading off with U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden. Starting two years before the election may seem early, but not if you’re following the Obama playbook and want to break ahead of the pack.

Julian Castro introduces Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at a Latinos for Hillary grassroots event on October 15, 2015, in San Antonio, Texas.

Erich Schlegel/Getty Images

Of course, one of Castro’s first obstacles is that Texas has delivered its Electoral vote to a Democratic presidential candidate just once in his lifetime—in 1976, when Castro was two. Given the opportunity to seek statewide office in 2018, neither Castro nor his twin brother, Congressman Joaquin Castro, chose to run. And for many national donors and political pundits, that signals weakness.

The early 2020 primary and caucus calendar will also work to Castro’s disadvantage. The Iowa caucuses and primaries in New Hampshire and South Carolina all occur in February, and those states lack a substantial Latino voter presence. Castro’s first real opportunity wouldn’t occur until Nevada, which is close to the end of the month. But on Super Tuesday, March 3, 2020, both Texas and California—and their large Hispanic populations—are scheduled to hold Democratic primaries. March would also include two more contests that could potentially favor Castro: Arizona and Florida.

Puerto Ricans will have a significant impact in Florida—since Hurricane Maria devastated the island, more than 73,000 people have flocked to Florida—and already, Castro has done more than Clinton to secure and motivate the Puerto Rican vote. As HUD director, he visited Puerto Rico in May 2016 to discuss affordable housing and the spread of Zika. And in June 2017, he tweeted that “Puerto Rico should be admitted as a state to the United States.”

Still, Matt Barreto, a University of California at Los Angeles political scientist and founder of the polling firm Latino Decisions, told me it makes sense to Castro to ease into the contest by starting with a book tour, like Obama did. “You have people like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, even Kamala Harris, who are in a different category. They’re sitting U.S. senators. They already have a large national platform. They can essentially book themselves on any cable news show anytime they want,” Barreto said. “So if you’re not a currently elected official, such as Castro, then you need to find opportunities to sort of inject yourself into the news narrative.”

The mere fact that Castro could not carry Texas in a presidential election will not count against him if he becomes a strong Latino presence as a candidate. “Castro doesn’t need Texas to win. The Democrats don’t need Texas to win,” Barreto said. “What he potentially could do, assuming he has strong support and is able to galvanize enthusiasm in the Latino electorate, is make Arizona a battleground state, which it’s already trending that way.

“That makes Castro’s potential candidacy, whether it’s at the presidential or vice presidential level, interesting.”

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  • anonyfool

    Obviously in hindsight, alnost any warm body would have been a better VP pick than Kaine who is kinda GOP lite for a Democrat and revealed Clinton was attempting to triangulate like her husband, without her husband’s charisma showing us that it really wasn’t a good policy. Does Castro at least have that – http://www.paulgraham.com/charisma.html

    • St. Anger

      Hindsight nothing. The idea that Clinton needed to shore up the middle – where she already was – was facially absurd even then.

      She needed to shore up her left. I said that at the time and was laughed at. By commenters on this thread, in fact, among others.

      But Castro wouldn’t have solved that, either.

  • SeeItMyWay

    What has he done? What has he run? Attractive, big smile, OK public speaker. San Antonio mayor…Sec of Housing & Urban Development. List major accomplishments in these two jobs. Hint – there aren’t any.

    • St. Anger

      What would you have him do as secretary of housing and urban development? Solve the affordable housing shortage? As mayor of San Antonio? Solve immigration?

      I have no plans to vote for Castro, but your criticism is vapid, not surprisingly.

      • SeeItMyWay

        Definition of “vapid”: flat, dull, lacking spirit. “Vapid” is a good word to use – if you are describing Castro. Major accomplishments? Impact?

        I’ll never vote for a professional politician again if there is a decent business person running against them.

        I don’t like or respect Trump, but I like the changes I see in the last eleven months. I’ll not vote for Hillary, Julián…and certainly not anyone left of them.

        That would be a goofy vote…and a wasted one.

        • SpiritofPearl

          What changes that you like in the last eleven months were ORIGINATED by Trump? Nothing. He is a game show host playing a role written for him by Big Money and Putin.

          • SeeItMyWay

            We can start with the job the military is doing on ISIS’s so-called JV team. If we are not going to totally pull back, then at least turn on-station decision making over to the generals. We are whipping their asses.

            The number of border crossings is way down.
            The economy is clicking. There is going to be tax reform.

            Trading partners have been served notice; pressure is on to get us out of Ocare. Maybe the discussion will turn to single payer. Not happy with the lack of oversight on the Big’s, but stopping the ATT/Time Warner buyout is a start.

          • SpiritofPearl

            How much of these “accomplishments” came from Trump’s mind?

          • SeeItMyWay

            Oh, I don’t know. I once asked my Dad the traits of a good executive. He said someone who delegates well.

            I have no idea who came up with the game plan Trump announced during the campaign. I do know that he has planted seeds, delegated and motivated and infuriated.

          • Jack Blacker

            He furthered segregation thereby harming minorities and did a dirty political deal with a fellow democratic Mayor in Dallas that covered up massive fraud of taxpayer dollars:

            http://www.dallasobserver.com/search?keyword=Julian+Castro.

          • Jack Blacker

            “Within that 30 percent, almost all of those children live in concentrated poverty — neighborhoods isolated from opportunities.

            The problem is multi-layered, but a report researched by the nonprofit Opportunity Dallas reveals poverty is rooted in segregation.

            “We live and learn separately by race and income. We are a diverse city in Dallas, but we don’t live diversely,” said Mike Koprowski, founder of Opportunity Dallas.

            Koprowski recently announced the results of a report to Dallas City Council members and proposed suggestions to reverse systematic inequality within the city.

            The Fair Housing Act, which prohibited housing discrimination, was enacted in 1968. His study shows the city of Dallas has made little progress in terms of housing segregation.”

            https://www.nbcdfw.com/news/local/Poverty-in-Dallas-Rooted-in-Racial-Income-Segregation-Study-461796453.html

          • constitutiononly

            Desegregation of housing in 1970 in my former, modest Oak Cliff neighborhood RUINED the neighborhood and ruined the public schools. I went back there couple of years after 1969, and everything, every house, the streets, the businesses, the schools, the churches—-all had turned into dumps from which sensible people had fled. Even worse now.

          • Jed

            desegregation didn’t ruin neighborhoods, racists did. sorry: “sensible” racists.

          • SeeItMyWay

            Thanks, Jack.

          • SpiritofPearl

            There’s much more to being a good executive than delegating.

            You’ve been had.

          • Jed

            i think you can give credit for the drop in border crossings to trump’s rhetoric. of course, the farmers whose crops didn’t get picked before the weather ruined them and the grocery shoppers who have to pay more for produce as a result and the construction firms who are falling behind on their contracts may not be so impressed with that.

            obviously, he doesn’t get credit for the economy. anyone knows that who is old enough to have seen a presidential transition happen before.

            i think we can give him credit for the tax increase we’re all going to pay, though, and the impact on our economy of destroying all these trade deals with be his, too.

            so i think it’s reasonable to credit him for many of these things. the mistake is in thinking that they are good things. if a race war erupts, i’ll be glad to credit trump for that, too, but i wouldn’t want to be the one to brag about it.

          • Putin wants to energize the US economy and modernize the US nuclear arsenal? I never realized he was such a patriot for our side.

          • His Highness

            1. Getting rid of tons of Obama regulations that stifled the economy.
            2. Taking the government’s hands away from the necks of the energy industry.
            3. Tax reform.
            4. Reducing the U.S. contribution toward the UN by $285 million. Bush 41, Bush 43, Obama, none of them would have done that.
            5. clearly defining enemies and friends.
            6. ISIS is about out of gas. Obama would have had ISIS here in the U.S.

            That’s just a start. All of those are Trump changes that would not have occurred under Hillary, Kasich or any other candidate other than, possibly, Cruz. If you don’t understand this, then you are not paying attention.

          • SpiritofPearl

            These roll backs of Obama-era accomplishments, not de novo accomplishments. They are fairly easy to put back in place when a new Dem becomes president – or even sooner when the Blue Tsunami 2018 comes along.

            You watch alr-right media and believe it is true. You have been deceived.

          • His Highness

            Time will tell. I hope you are wrong about that tsunami.

          • SpiritofPearl

            I hope I’m right, as do 60% of your fellow countryman. Can you swim?

          • His Highness

            Don’t bet your ranch on that 60% figure you tout. By the way, if you have a ranch, why haven’t you done the honorable and decent thing and sold it, and given the proceeds to all those poor people you care so deeply about?

          • SpiritofPearl

            You sure hate black,people, don’t you?

          • His Highness

            No, but your response tells me that you view everything through the lens of race, which makes you a racist.

            I have said nothing here, or anywhere else, that evidences hatred for Black people. Strong dislike for racists, such as you, check. I’ll admit that.

          • SpiritofPearl

            Alt-right types consistently accuse those who call out their racism as “racists.” Your hatred of the poor is threaded with your resentment of POC. Poverty is much more endemic in communities of POC because of poor opportunities for advancement.

            Your racism defines you. I call them as I see them.

          • SpiritofPearl

            I don’t have a ranch, but I can swim. In fact I earned a senior life saving badge when I was in college.

            Are you a Christian?

            The YMCA has swimming classes for adults. Good luck!

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    • Fantasy Maker

      He is a Latino- that is his qualification

    • Jack Blacker

      Here is what Castro did at HUD: He furthered segregation thereby harming minorities and did a dirty political deal with a fellow democratic Mayor in Dallas that covered up massive fraud of taxpayer dollars:

      http://www.dallasobserver.com/search?keyword=Julian+Castro.

      • Jack Blacker

        “Almost all of those children live in concentrated poverty — neighborhoods isolated from opportunities.

        The problem is multi-layered, but a report researched by the nonprofit Opportunity Dallas reveals poverty is rooted in segregation.

        “We live and learn separately by race and income. We are a diverse city in Dallas, but we don’t live diversely,” said Mike Koprowski, founder of Opportunity Dallas.

        Koprowski recently announced the results of a report to Dallas City Council members and proposed suggestions to reverse systematic inequality within the city.

        The Fair Housing Act, which prohibited housing discrimination, was enacted in 1968. His study shows the city of Dallas has made little progress in terms of housing segregation.”

        https://www.nbcdfw.com/news/local/Poverty-in-Dallas-Rooted-in-Racial-Income-Segregation-Study-461796453.html

    • Vik Verma

      Pre-K in San Antonio

  • WUSRPH

    Here is a tough one for me: Do I vote in the Democratic Primary in the hope we can get a new state rep. or do I vote for Jerry Patterson in the GOP primary against George XVII (or at least it seems like there have been that many)?

    • SpiritofPearl

      Mr. Patterson seems like an honest fellow, but he is overly fond of guns.

      • Don Baker

        Exactly why I will vote for him

      • SeeItMyWay

        And that is bad because….???

        • SpiritofPearl

          Too many guns in the hands of halfwits . . .

    • Kozmo

      Yeah! I have the same conundrum facing me!

  • Don Baker

    Totally unqualified to be president

    • BCinBCS

      But vastly more qualified than the person currently occupying the White House.

      • Don Baker

        Not even close. Trump has done an excellent job and he will have my vote again.

        • BCinBCS

          I literally laughed out loud reading your comment.

          • anonyfool

            That 37% or so approval rating has to come from somewhere!

  • Fantasy Maker

    Not a chance in hell

  • subtext9

    No way. The twin thing would be much too confusing for the Secret Service.

  • Kozmo

    I’d be more impressed if Castro didn’t appear to spend more time triangulating and calculating and angling for his next position than he does doing, you know, actual WORK on behalf of his constituents. The hard grunt work of politics, much ignored by ambitious young go-getters like, oh, Obama. Whose legacy is deeply ambivalent at the moment.

    I’m deeply skeptical about any Democrat’s chances beyond Texas if they can’t show any statewide appeal IN Texas, for starters.

  • SeeItMyWay

    Someone please pass this link on to Professor Know-It-All.
    https://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/commentary/2017/12/08/mixing-business-politics-bathroom-bill-texas-employers-plan-bigger-role-march-primaries?utm_term=Autofeed&utm_campaign=Echobox&utm_medium=Social&utm_source=Twitter#link_time=1512816058

    It outlines Big Business taking aim at the TP fanatics and starting a PAC to counteract groups like Empower Texans and their money.

    WUSRPH said Texas business leaders would not take a chance on biting the Republican hands that feeds them. Guess he was wrong.

    Also wondering if he caught the Texas Tribune interview with Straus where Straus said he did not have enough time to run for state office this time around, but was being encouraged to (by business leaders), and if and when he did, it would not be for Lt. Gov. Guess this means he is looking at the Governor’s mansion. The Professor poo-poo’d Straus running, much less drawing business encouragement and support.

    He’s a great historian, but a sorry prognosticator.

    • Kozmo

      I wonder why Straus doesn’t run in 2018, while his name recognition is still high. I don’t know if voters will remember an ex-Speaker that much by 2020. Although he may be hoping that the 2019 legislative session will be such a disaster that he’ll have a better opportunity to make his case in 2020 and the “I told you so” factor will be on his side.

    • constitutiononly

      Strauss is a RINO who caters to ‘bidness’ and Democrats. Never again, I hope. Get a conservative in there.

  • SpiritofPearl

    Another broken promise – Ford moves to Mexico:

    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-12-07/ford-moving-production-of-electric-suv-from-michigan-to-mexico

    Carrier moved their Indiana production to Mexico as well

  • Dan on the River

    Henry the C saying Castro “has high personal character”. What Cisneros know about character?

    • BCinBCS

      I find it interesting that you dug up a twenty-two year old scandal that had absolutely nothing to do with Julián Castro and, of course, failed to mention the state of conservative politics today.

      • Dan on the River

        Henry was supposed to answer to the conservatives search for another LBJ, somebody we could rally around. And he let us down. Keep moving to the left and keep losing. Julian ain’t the answer in Texas.

        • BCinBCS

          So you’re saying that the way that Democrats can win is by becoming Republicans?

          • Jed

            that seems to be what WUSRPH and the rest of “moderate” chorus around here think, too.

            ps – ironically, if we actually wanted someone moderate, then castro WOULD be a good choice. the dreaded “moving to the left” would require nominating someone actually to the left.

          • BCinBCS

            In Texas, someone “to the left” would not be much of a liberal.

          • constitutiononly

            Checked the fools around Austin and Houston lately?

          • constitutiononly

            No. By becoming conservatives.

  • SpiritofPearl

    I didn’t call you an idiot or a stooge, now did I? I said you’d been “had,” meaning deceived or scammed.

    What you consider positives, I consider failures.

    1) Within a year or less, our agricultural products, especially produce will be more costly. Americans will pay more for their food, hotel rooms, restaurants, new construction – all the places where undocumented workers have a niche in our economy. This harms individuals and businesses.

    2) Withdrawing from treaties and trade deals has caused us to lose prestige and power. Try some reading about the end of the British empire to see how that works out. T. hasn’t got a clue, just angling for ratings.

    3) The end of ISIS started on Obama’s watch, as did the the improving economy. Most Americans agree with me – 57%.

    4) Tax “reform” is a handout to the 1% and will increase the debt by at least $1 trillion. Look at Brownback’s Kansas for a prediction of America’s future if we continue on this foolish path.

    • constitutiononly

      All illegal aliens must be removed from Texas, one way or another, and with all of their anchor babies. Don’t like the grocery prices? Grow your own. The farmers should hire the welfare moochers and do the taxpayers a favor. Same for construction: Hire American citizens. And, stay away from trade deals that do not place America First.

      • SpiritofPearl

        You are very naive.

  • constitutiononly

    Castro should just take a hike to the South and stay there. No more pro-illegal alien politicians in Texas. Clean them out!

    • St. Anger

      “The south” is still part of the USA, unfortunately.

  • cavecritter

    There’s an old saying to the effect that you need to have job in order to get a job. He doesn’t have a platform from which to run, and, if he was afraid to run for state-wide office during what is shaping up to be a wave election, why would any major Democratic donors or groups want to get behind him in 2020?

  • I would guess he is disgruntled with less unemployment, more people in the work force, increased supply of goods exported and decrease in dependence on other countries, higher GNP and of course support for law and order just to name a few.

    • St. Anger

      By “law and order” I assume you refer to the laws against sexual assault and child molestation?
      And the “he” who is disgruntled must be our president?

  • Why does the US need another Hillary Clinton/Obama protege? Our economy, freed from the shackles of over-regulation, could double its rate of growth and unemployment is plunging. What could the Democrats possibly offer that rates even passing interest other than a high cost health care plan doomed to bankruptcy and higher taxes.

  • His Highness

    Julian Castro in the White House? Please, say it will never happen. He’s a racist socialist, something we surely do not need anywhere in national politics.