By Ken Stone
But Monday in San Diego, when he met the media after a 14-minute appearance at the Latino version of an NAACP convention, Castro didn’t have the same hope for change.
“Can you guarantee that you’ll be on the March ballot in California? That you’ll be an active candidate?” he was asked as he exited his press conference.
“Right now, I can’t guarantee that I’ll be in the September debate,” said the lone Latino in the race.
A luncheon audience of 1,500 gave Castro a standing ovation after a speech and Q&A at the UnidosUS annual meeting at the San Diego Convention Center. But they did the same for most of the four other Democratic presidential rivals that spoke.
The former mayor of San Antonio, Texas, and Obama’s second secretary of housing and urban development told the press that if he were the nominee “you will see Latino turnout like you have never seen in the history of this country.”
- Watch: Facebook Live video of Julián Castro starts at 1hr, 53min into clip.
- Listen: Janet Murguía, Matt Baretto and Clarissa Martínez-de-Castro on poll
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A poll released Monday at the convention supports that scenario — indicating the number of eligible Latino voters in 2020 would exceed that for blacks. (But African-American registration rates are higher.)
Said UnidosUS President Janet Murguía: “Latino voters are hungry for candidates that will unite us as a country.”
But according to Real Clear Politics, Castro clings to 1% Democratic support nationwide — ninth place in the field, trailing fellow UnidosUS speakers Joe Biden (32.3%), Bernie Sanders (16.7%) and Kamala Harris (14.0%).
The only Democrat here he beats is Amy Klobuchar (0.7%).
A Latino Decisions poll of 1,854 eligible Latino voters (the largest such sample yet this cycle) didn’t ask who they’d vote for. Instead it sought to learn the traits wanted in candidates and the issues most important to voters. It also broke down the Latino electorate by party.
The June 1-14 poll — in English or Spanish, depending on preference — had a 2.3% margin of error. It found that 78% of Latinos said their top concern is how President Trump and his allies treat Latinos and are “worried it will get worse.”
Castro tried to tap into that concern Monday.
In his opening remarks, he said the El Paso shootings — an “attack our our Latino community” — were no accident. It’s “due in part to the climate the president has set.”
In a 20-minute media talk later, Castro went further: “This morning, the president said we should reject bigotry and hate and white supremacy. If we did that, we would reject him.”
Minutes later, Castro said Trump’s address “sounded like empty words that are too late. You watch him reading that statement, empty of any emotion, no real feeling in it. It seems like somebody put him up to reading that statement.”
Castro said he wouldn’t be surprised if word gets “strategically leaked” that Trump gave the talk begrudgingly and regrets it.
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“He says the words that some of his advisers think he has to say to maintain a modicum of political viability with people who are very concerned about where he’s at on these issues,” Castro said. “And then he goes back to … his base that ‘Hey, I don’t mean that.’ … It’s the same game every time.”
Castro doesn’t have confidence Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will deliver on his promise to “do our part” in combating gun violence.
“Some of these politicians say what they have to say in the moment, hoping that the emotion will subside, that the political upheaval will blow over,” he said. “And then they slow walk any kind of change.”
If McConnell wants to see the light, Castro said, “then more power to him. I’m not holding my breath.”
Castro was asked: Can you win the nomination without major Latino votes?
He said any candidate in the primary or general election would need a lot of Latino support.
“I’m not taking the Latino community for granted,” he said. “Just because I’m Latino doesn’t mean that I’m necessarily going to get the support of a majority of Latinos out there.”
Castro waited until Sunday to confirm his appearance in San Diego, which forced the convention to hurriedly update logistics and graphics. UnidosUS had promoted four candidates since mid-July.
Castro was vague on why.
“We had a scheduling opportunity that allowed me to be here,” he said. “I’m glad I was able to get here, especially at this moment when a lot of Latinos — whether they are recent immigrants or people who have been here for generations — feel like this president has put a target on their back.”
Why not prioritize attending a meeting of the largest Hispanic civil rights group in the nation?
“Sometimes the schedule provides an opportunity,” he repeated. “This isn’t the first time that we’ve confirmed something a day or a few hours before (we had to), trust me.”
His timing has been criticized before.
The day fellow Texan Beto O’Rourke announced his run for president, Castro released a list of Texas endorsements (though he said it had been in the works for weeks).
“The timing of Castro’s brushback pitch was viewed by some Democrats as unsportsmanlike,” Politico reported in March. “To make matters worse, some of the endorsers were surprised to learn that their names would be released on the day a fellow Texan announced his candidacy. And at least one official on the list said he was actually neutral in the 2020 race.”
But Castro was buoyed by news last week that he was endorsed by the Latino Victory Fund, a group aiming to grow Latinos’ political clout.
Writing for NBC.com, however, Suzanne Gamboa threw cold water on the development.
“While some may see the endorsement as logical, since Castro is the only Latino in the race, polls have shown Hispanic voters, like white voters, have divided their loyalties among the many Democratic candidates,” she said. “Several of the candidates have hired Latinos to help them connect with Hispanic voters who will be the largest nonwhite group of eligible voters for the first time in the 2020 election.”
Still, Castro made a case in the darkened ballroom that he’s the “party’s best hope” to flip Hispanic-rich states Trump won in 2016, including Florida (29 electoral votes), Arizona (11) and Texas (38).
At the press conference, Castro was asked how he’d win Texas.
He spotlighted “two dynamics” — demographic change (“Latino community turned out in 2018 at a much greater rate than it did in 2014”) and the changing suburbs — which he said is turning against Trump.
Castro noted the announced retirements of three Texas GOP members of Congress — Reps. Will Hurd, Mike Conaway and Pete Olson.
(On Monday, Rep. Kenny Marchant became No. 4.)
“As you know, that’s an early warning sign about the likelihood of losing seats in the next election,” he said. “The writing’s on the wall that Texas is changing. … In a general election, I feel very confident about my chances in Texas and these other states.”
In introducing Castro, UnidosUS leader Murguía said: “Needless to say, we’re proud of a Latino running for president, aren’t we?”
(But she noted at a later press conference that the nonprofit UnidosUS doesn’t do endorsements. Instead, the group lets an associated super PAC decide who to favor financially. It backed Hillary Clinton in October 2016.)
Murguía fed him questions up his alley — about improving education and how to protect Latino voting rights amid “voter suppression.”
(He said he’d replicate his San Antonio drive for pre-K education for 3- and 4-year-olds. In that city, they passed a one-eighth cent sales tax. He said he’d give teachers tax credits between $2,000 and $10,000 — the higher amount for those in schools with the most free or reduced-price lunch recipients. And free public college education and more trade programs “without tracking.”)
He said he’s push Congress to adopt a 21st century Voting Rights Act and he’d appoint judges who’d support strong voting rights.
Murguía asked Castro, 44, why he should be president.
He began by saying he represents a “new generation of leadership that the United States is looking for and needs” and is someone with executive experience and a compelling vision for the country’s future.
“And I can beat Donald Trump” he said. “I can go to Michigan and Wisconsin and Pennsylvania and get back those votes.”
His first executive order as president would be to recommit to the Paris climate accord, Castro said. In the first 100 days, he would pursue universal health care and “as we learned from 2009 and 2010, we can’t wait for immigration reform. We’re going to go forward this time.”
At his press conference, he checked off more boxes.
“My message to the Latino community is that I am with you,” he said in English and Spanish. “That we will do what we have to to protect you and your family in this country, and to see to it that you can reach your dreams and have success in the United States.”
Castro’s odds of success, though slim, still rely on what he said everyone calls “the sleeping giant of the Latino community.”
“Well, if we’re ready to wake up and see the full potential at the ballot box, it means that all of us will have to do our part,” he said.
Seven years ago, after his DNC speech in Charlotte, North Carolina, Castro brushed off talk about potentially being the nation’s first Hispanic president.
“I’m confident that that will happen in time, but it’s not going to be me,” he said. “That’s not what I’m aiming for. But I do think the United States is ready.”
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