Castro’s plans now hinge on O’Rourke
Ex-Mayor Castro’s plans hinge on O’Rourke
Julián Castro never leaves anything to chance.
Two years before his first campaign — a successful 2001 run for San Antonio City Council — Castro, then a second-year Harvard Law School student, already was plotting out the details of that campaign. A full year before the election, he held a fundraiser in Cambridge, Mass., hitting up his Harvard classmates for $2,000 in seed money.
Given what we know about Castro’s commitment to long-term political planning, it was kind of amusing Wednesday when some members of the media took the latest bit of news about the former San Antonio mayor — his formation of a presidential exploratory committee — at face value and declared he was exploring the possibility of a campaign.
In fact, the exploration phase of Castro’s presidential odyssey took place two years ago.
Castro deserves credit, however, for his slow, incremental rollout, a two-year tease which periodically enabled him to get a new round of coverage for apparently moving closer to a decision that he’d already made.
In a June 2017 episode of the Austin PBS show “Overheard with Evan Smith,” Castro said of a presidential campaign, “I’m not taking that off the table.” Two months later, he filed paperwork for his Oppor-
tunity First political action committee, a clear tablesetting move for a presidential run. In January of this year, he launched a public-relations campaign for the PAC.
In February, he told NBC News he had “every interest in running.” In May, he told C-SPAN, “I’m going to think about it.” In October, he said this to Rolling Stone: “I’m likely to do it.” Last month, he proclaimed, “I’m hoping to do it.”
Castro’s cautious nature has become a source of irritation among some of his fellow Texas Democrats over the past few years, as they’ve watched him twice (2014 and 2018) pass up opportunities to run for governor.
That’s why Castro’s 2020 move is so intriguing. It feels contrary to his nature. The political phenom who repeatedly bucked calls for him to go statewide now is skipping that rung on the ladder and shooting for the White House.
It would be a cruel twist, then, if his prospects get quashed by Beto O’Rourke, a Texas ally who, unlike Castro, dared to run statewide (taking on Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz) and gained national stardom in the process of losing.
O’Rourke has yet to declare his intentions, but a new CNN poll puts the outgoing El Paso congressman in third place among likely 2020 Democratic candidates, behind former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Castro sits in the bottom tier of the 20 candidates polled, joining Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper at less than 1 percent.
From the beginning, Castro’s presidential gambit has been informed by three premises: there is nowhere for him to go, politically speaking, in this Republican state, so he might as well take his case to national voters; the 2016 election of a reality-show star, Donald Trump, lowered the bar when it comes to how much experience we expect from presidential candidates; and 2020 will be a generational-change election.
In a sense, every election is a reaction to the one that immediately preceded it. After losing in 1968 with Hubert Humphrey, a Vietnam War defender favored by party bosses, Democrats democratized their nomination process and picked an anti-establishment dove, George McGovern.
When McGovern got trampled by Richard Nixon in the 1972 general election, Democrats decided they needed to reclaim their hold on wandering Southern conservatives, so they selected a centrist, born-again Christian from Georgia named Jimmy Carter.
The lesson that many Democrats extracted from Hillary Clinton’s 2016 loss to Trump is that the party needs young, dynamic leadership unburdened by corporate or party-establishment ties.
The outlines of Castro’s biography make him ideal for the current climate. A 44-year-old Latino who made it from San Antonio’s West Side to the Ivy League; the architect of an innovative, city-funded pre-K program; a walking demonstration of what can be achieved when opportunity aligns with hard work.
Castro’s stated intention for his PAC — which raised $489,675 and spent $468,708 through November 26 — was to fund a new generation of Democratic talent.
Along those lines, the PAC donated $2,000 to Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and $1,000 to Xochitl Torres Small, the 34-year-old winner of a tight congressional race in New Mexico.
Castro’s PAC also delivered plenty of funding love to Dems in the early presidential primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire: $2,500 to three Iowa congressional hopefuls, anoth- er $2,500 to four Iowa state candidates and
$1,000 to the New Hampshire Young Democrats.
This effort is reminiscent of the way Jimmy Carter used his 1974 role, running the Democratic National Committee’s midterm campaign drive, to collect IOUs and cultivate his brand.
Carter got lucky in 1976 because Ted Kennedy chose to stay out. Another Southern underdog, Bill Clinton, had a similar stroke of good fortune in 1992 when New York Gov. Mario Cuomo declined to run.
Castro needs a similar bit of luck just to elbow his way into the scrum of candidates who’ll be vying for the 2020 nomination. O’Rourke, with his contagious exuberance, guileless charisma and Texas border roots, would knock Castro out of his chosen lane.
While both men have relatively thin résumés by the standards of preTrump presidential politics, Castro, with his signature Pre-K program and the development of downtown San Antonio, can claim a stronger record of policy achievement.
But it’s like noting that the Everly Brothers were technically better singers than Elvis Presley. It may be true, but disciplined earnestness always will come up short against rock-star magnetism.