Cas­tro’s plans now hinge on O’Rourke

Ex-Mayor Cas­tro’s plans hinge on O’Rourke

San Antonio Express-News (Sunday) - - Front Page - GIL­BERT GAR­CIA ¡Puro San An­to­nio! ggar­[email protected]­ @gil­gamesh470

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.

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