Let’s get this out of the way first: Hillary Clinton is almost certain to be the Democratic Party’s candidate for president. #FeelingTheBern or not, the structure of the party would require Bernie Sanders to achieve not just support from primary voters, but also party insiders, superdelegates, and arm-twisters in the Senate. Barack Obama had Ted Kennedy and an identity as the fresh, young face of his party when he derailed Clinton’s bid for the Presidency in 2008; Bernie Sanders has Killer Mike, Ben and Jerry, and decades of serving in the House and the Senate without ever joining the Democratic Party. Big ups to delicious ice cream and Run The Jewels, but it’s not believed that the big names endorsing Sanders carry much sway within the party’s machinery.
Which means that, barring highly improbable circumstances that cause Clinton to exit the race, the Democratic nomination will likely go to, er, a member of the Democratic Party. And as dreamy as Martin O’Malley looks playing the guitar sans shirt, the person is probably going to be Hillary Clinton.
So media attention has largely turned to Clinton’s future running mate, and one name that’s gotten a lot of play lately will be familiar to Texans: the former mayor of San Antonio Julián Castro.
Castro, who currently serves as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in Obama’s cabinet, has seen his profile steadily rise in four years. But it’s been just the past weekend when that rising profile culminated in a bit of new conventional wisdom: the guy is an ideal vice presidential candidate.
Politico started the ball rolling on Friday, running 4,000 words about the steps that Castro has taken to prepare himself for a bigger role in the party.
At home, Julián Castro’s been spending more time reading and watching television in Spanish, trying to get his speaking skills up to speed.
On the job as Housing and Urban Development secretary, he’s been carefully working the levers in Washington, with coaching from Bill Clinton and a twin brother who’s a popular and up-and-coming congressman himself.
Starting Saturday, he’ll be out on the trail for Hillary Clinton in in Nevada, Iowa and Maine.
He’s plotted his rise carefully, studying and strategizing with a clear goal in sight. But if Clinton picks him to be her running mate, it’ll be more about perfectly fitting his party’s moment and the nearly non-existent Democratic bench than about his 18 months as a HUD secretary who hasn’t left a deep mark at his agency, the White House or the housing world.
That last paragraph is a bit of a burn, but the idea that Castro’s name is being floated at least in part for demographic reasons is valid. Clinton is 68, white, and a lady—so the odds are that her running mate is going to be a young man of color. And because the Democratic bench—as Politico notes—is thin, Castro is one of a small handful of candidates who provides a solid option (New Jersey Senator Cory Booker is another).
During eight years of President Obama, the Democrats didn’t do much to expand their horizons. The fact that Hillary Clinton and an independent septuagenarian from Vermont are the two candidates polling above single digits in the primary speaks to that. But the steps that were taken to ensure that there were nationally recognizable candidates under retirement age mostly centered around Castro, Booker, Wendy Davis, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, and Castro’s twin brother Joaquín. (The only other new star the Democrats have, Elizabeth Warren, is 66.) Emmanuel’s disastrous tenure in Chicago has left him in traction; Patrick left office and promptly took a job at the deeply unpopular investment firm Bain Capital; Davis lost her race for governor in 2014 and is currently contemplating a second act in Hollywood; and though Joaquín Castro has remained in Congress, he hasn’t been looking to a promotion the way that his brother has.
But Julián Castro has been primed for this moment since he gave the keynote at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, indicating that the second-term mayor of San Antonio could be the party’s next Obama (the president rose to national prominence after delivering a similar address during the 2004 DNC). Castro’s national prominence had him set up for higher office—and as the writing on the wall during Davis’s 2014 campaign suggested that Democrats weren’t as close to being competitive in statewide races in Texas as they’d hoped, he took the job at HUD when Obama came calling.
Castro’s weekend on the campaign trail is being billed as “a vice presidential test run” by the LA Times, which is astute:
In something of a test of Castro’s campaigning abilities, he barnstormed Iowa in the final days leading up to the state’s Feb. 1 caucus. He visited several small cities with growing Latino populations and warned voters about the dire consequences of a Clinton loss and the possible return of the White House to Republican control.
“We absolutely can’t afford to hand over the presidency to the Republican Party,” Castro told a crowd in Fairfield, his second stop of the day. “Can you imagine what would happen if you have Speaker [Paul] Ryan, Senate Majority Leader [Mitch] McConnell and President Trump?”
“We’ve seen what they’ve done when they’ve had that kind of power,” he added, hinting at the kind of attack-dog sensibility that presidential candidates often rely on in a running mate.
That Clinton’s giving Castro the chance to show what he can do on the trail makes sense. But the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce issuing an endorsement of the Secretary for the job before the first primary has even been held is probably premature. (Even if Clinton’s nomination is close to a sure thing, let’s give the party the chance to figure out for certain which candidate he’ll be running alongside.) But still, the fact is that Julián Castro has been running for vice president since the 2012 Democratic National Convention—his time in Iowa is just about making sure that the party remembers it.