As Julián Castro celebrated his forty-fifth birthday alongside brother Joaquin at an event center in San Antonio on Monday, there was a lot weighing on his mind. Castro continues to look like an also-ran in national polling and ranks fourteenth in fund-raising among the Democratic party’s presidential contenders, according to the latest Federal Election Commission filings. He has only about $1 million on hand, far less than fund-raising leader Bernie Sanders’s $27 million. Then last week, after a third Democratic presidential debate in Houston, he was widely criticized as mocking the age of Joe Biden.
This has led some party leaders in Texas to quietly begin wondering whether Castro should drop out of the race and instead take on John Cornyn for the U.S. Senate seat once held by Lyndon B. Johnson. On Sunday, U.S. Representative Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, even switched his endorsement from Castro to Biden. “If you’re polling in the low single digits, and you’re not raising any resources, and you’re fracturing your party, and you’re just getting your supporters to be upset at other candidates, it certainly can’t be a good thing for our party,” Gonzalez told CNN about withdrawing his support for his fellow Texan.
The idea of a Castro Senate run is compelling. Julián would almost certainly emerge as the front-runner in the Democratic primary to take on an incumbent who looks vulnerable. He’d likely enjoy endorsements from the rest of the Democratic presidential field, who know that Castro at the top of the statewide ticket could help put Texas in play. He could easily convert the national base he’s been building into a fund-raising source. His campaigning throughout Texas might also benefit down-ballot Democrats at a time when the party faithful are hopeful that they can seize control of the Texas House.
Yet I believe that as long as Castro has the money to sustain his candidacy, he should keep running for president. Whether or not he has a realistic shot at winning the nomination, Castro’s presence in the race means more to Hispanics than many realize—even those who would not list him as their first choice on the primary ballot.
Castro’s campaign comes at a critical moment in this country’s treatment of Hispanics, a moment when xenophobia is being leveraged for political gain. Hispanics have long expressed frustration about being ignored by policymakers. Now that many are feeling targeted, both rhetorically and physically, they are speaking out more forcefully. In my thirty years of covering Texas politics, I’ve never seen the state’s Hispanics spoiling for a fight quite so much.
That was abundantly apparent last week after the Houston debate. While many in the media chastised Castro for seemingly attacking Biden’s age, Hispanics whom I spoke to were delighted to see this exchange. “He has huevos,” one Hispanic observer gleefully told me a day after the debate. He was ecstatic to see Castro showing that he’s not overly cautious and could handle ruthless attacks from Trump. In the Trump era, and particularly after the El Paso massacre, it’s important that the most prominent Hispanic voice in the 2020 election displays a willingness to stand his ground and fight.
It was hardly the first time during this campaign that Castro has spoken out. He has widely been credited with driving the conversation on immigration reform, perhaps the most contentious issue going into the 2020 election. Recall that he got the whole country talking about the part of federal law that criminalizes immigration (U.S.C. 1325) after the first debate in July. Then, after the horrific El Paso shooting in which Hispanics were targeted by a gunman who killed 22 and wounded two dozen more because he feared a Latin American invasion of the country, Castro ran a forceful ad on Fox News directly calling out President Trump, “because you stoked the fire of racists.”
I’m seeing more Hispanics, perhaps empowered by Castro, perhaps embittered by El Paso, declaring the same message that Castro did in his commercial: “Ya basta!” Enough already. Indeed, enough already with the premature calls for Castro to drop out.