Cas­tro sticks to time­line and gets into race early

For­mer mayor to an­nounce for the pres­i­dency today

San Antonio Express-News - - FRONT PAGE - By Bill Lam­brecht

NORTH LIB­ERTY, Iowa — At a “Potluck In­sur­gency” gath­er­ing in Iowa this week, Julián Cas­tro pre­viewed his can­di­dacy for the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion, a cam­paign that evolved af­ter the 2016 elec­tion and that em­pha­sizes his San An­to­nio roots.

Re­spond­ing to a ques­tion about pre­scrip­tion drug prices, Cas­tro spoke of his im­mi­grant grand­mother, who lost a foot to di­a­betes and later her life to com­pli­ca­tions from the dis­ease.

“You all know that with di­a­betes, that of­ten hap­pens. But she had medicine, and Medi­care en­abled her care,” Cas­tro said, us­ing a fam­ily story to but­tress his sup­port for a so-called Medi­care for All ap­proach to health in­sur­ance.

The abil­ity to get care, Cas­tro added, “should not de­pend first on the profit of Big Pharma or any other in­dus­try.”

Re­call­ing his years as San An­to­nio mayor, Cas­tro de­scribed his home­town to Iowans as “one of the na­tion’s fastest-grow­ing and most di­verse cities.” He even men­tioned the River Walk.

Crowds who turn out today at Plaza Guadalupe to hear Cas­tro an­nounce his de­ci­sion to run will get a glimpse of the fam­ily ap­peal Cas­tro has tai­lored over months

of plan­ning.

His mother, Rosie, a for­mer ac­tivist Cas­tro de­scribes as his in­spi­ra­tion, will in­tro­duce him. He and twin brother Joaquin, a con­gress­man from San An­to­nio, plan to ar­rive on the pub­lic bus line they took to school as boys. The en­try will be streamed live on Face­book. Joaquin planned to make a pitch for do­na­tions from the stage.

The can­di­dacy Cas­tro spells out in a venue rich in Mex­i­canAmer­i­can cul­ture likely will be­come a ral­ly­ing point for His­panic vot­ers. Depend­ing on its suc­cess, it could pro­pel Texas back onto the stage of na­tional Demo­cratic pol­i­tics af­ter a decades­long ab­sence.

Texas could be­come an even big­ger player if Beto O’Rourke jumps in on the strength of the buzz he gen­er­ated in a strong but los­ing chal­lenge to Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz last year.

Cas­tro, 44, who was hous­ing sec­re­tary in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, is an early en­trant in a race likely to fea­ture one of the big­gest and most di­verse fields of Demo­cratic hope­fuls ever. Some two-dozen politi­cians of var­ied back­grounds have ex­pressed in­ter­est and at least half are ex­pected to join the fray.

At this point, it is a com­pe­ti­tion lack­ing a can­di­date with a claim to the nom­i­na­tion.

Cas­tro and other Democrats will com­pete for at­ten­tion and vi­ral mo­ments in a po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment starkly dif­fer­ent from the past, with the in­ter­net cen­tral to all facets of cam­paigns and the rules of pres­i­den­tial pol­i­tics un­clear af­ter Don­ald Trump’s rise.

What hasn’t changed is the need to win over a Demo­cratic base itch­ing to re­take the White House.

In Iowa, which opens the pri­mary sea­son with precinct cau­cuses on Feb. 3, 2020, Cas­tro made a strong first im­pres­sion on Leann Cor­timigli, who said af­ter his pitch that she ex­pects him to rise to the first tier of can­di­dates.

“He re­minds me of a young Barack Obama,” said Cor­timigli, 60.

But Car­olyn Shultz, 21, suggested that Cas­tro fell short on pro­ject­ing ur­gency, po­ten­tially use­ful ad­vice for a politi­cian given to mea­sured tones and easy hu­mor rather than bursts of out­rage. Many in Iowa had turned out days ear­lier to take in Mas­sachusetts Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren’s brand of edgy pol­i­tics.

“I don’t think he has the spark. I don’t think he’s an­gry enough. I’m an­gry,” said Shultz, read­ing a novel as oth­ers lined up for pho­tos with the vis­i­tor from Texas.

In Iowa, Cas­tro was em­phatic on a point that can­di­dates like to make th­ese days. “I’m not from Wash­ing­ton,” he said, “and I be­lieve that we need to change the cul­ture of Wash­ing­ton.”

A jar­ring ca­reer change

Two years ago, Wash­ing­ton looked pretty good to Cas­tro. Hardly any­one thought Hil­lary Clin­ton would lose, in­clud­ing Cas­tro, who had spent two-and ahalf years run­ning the De­part­ment of Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment. He thought he’d land in her ad­min­is­tra­tion; pre­lim­i­nary dis­cus­sions had taken place.

“I ex­pected that I would con­tinue to serve in some ca­pac­ity in a new ad­min­is­tra­tion,” Cas­tro said re­cently.

In “An Un­likely Jour­ney,” Cas­tro’s au­to­bi­og­ra­phy pub­lished in Oc­to­ber, he re­called the shock of elec­tion night, which he spent in New York with a room full of VIPs. He went back to his ho­tel and col­lapsed on the bed in dis­be­lief as the re­turns came in. When he awak­ened a few hours later, Trump’s vic­tory was as­sured, and Cas­tro’s fu­ture was un­cer­tain.

The next day, he phoned his wife, Erica, to say they would be re­turn­ing home to San An­to­nio, per­haps where he would run for some­thing. But a race for gover­nor of Texas in 2018 never held much ap­peal.

Cas­tro’s plan to seek the White House took shape swiftly, in­ter­views with him and al­lies sug­gest.

He had ex­pe­ri­enced the na­tional lime­light, rel­ish­ing the “ris­ing star” la­bel af­ter be­ing se­lected by Obama to de­liver the key­note speech at the 2012 Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion in Char­lotte.

Cas­tro trav­eled widely at HUD and has con­tin­ued to do so, vis­it­ing more than 40 states at last count. And he’d landed on a list of fi­nal­ists to be­come Clin­ton’s 2016 run­ning mate, en­dured the vet­ting and even taken a phys­i­cal. He slid down in the or­der when the Clin­ton cam­paign con­cluded that a Latino on the ticket was un­needed as a ral­ly­ing tool given Trump’s vil­i­fi­ca­tion of His­panic im­mi­grants.

In weigh­ing a can­di­dacy, it seemed a good bet to Cas­tro that vot­ers would be weary of a mer­cu­rial pres­i­dent buf­feted by in­ves­ti­ga­tions and in­tent on se­lect­ing a re­place­ment who looked to be fun­da­men­tally hon­est.

He also cal­cu­lated, rightly or wrongly, that vot­ers would be in the mar­ket for a can­di­date from a younger gen­er­a­tion. Early on, he took stock of Democrats who’d won the White House in their 40s: John F. Kennedy (43); Bill Clin­ton (46) and Obama (47).

In a party riven by feud­ing be­tween Clin­ton back­ers and devo­tees of Sen. Bernie Sanders of Ver­mont, Cas­tro saw him­self ap­peal­ing to both camps.

He also con­sid­ered what his can­di­dacy might do for Democrats’ hopes of turn­ing Texas into a blue state.

Since last year, he has talked over his fu­ture with al­lies and men­tors, among them Henry Cis­neros who, like Cas­tro, was a San An­to­nio mayor and HUD chief. He spoke with con­sul­tants, in­clud­ing David Ax­el­rod, who was Obama’s White House po­lit­i­cal chief, and Jeremy Bird, a prin­ci­pal or­ga­nizer of Obama’s cam­paigns.

But Cas­tro can point to no se­nior party lead­ers he re­lies on. Brother Joaquin re­mains his clos­est po­lit­i­cal ad­viser.

On three oc­ca­sions he con­vened sup­port­ers to talk about his fu­ture. In Au­gust 2017, shortly af­ter start­ing his Op­por­tu­nity First PAC, he held the first meet­ing, de­scrib­ing briefly what he had in mind. In a se­cond meet­ing a year later, he got more spe­cific about where he saw him­self in a 2020 field.

If there were doubts about run­ning, they were erased by Democrats’ suc­cess in re­cap­tur­ing the U.S. House in Novem­ber’s midterm elec­tion, with a net gain of 43 seats — some of them won by can­di­dates Cas­tro sup­ported dur­ing his trav­els last year.

“I picked up on what peo­ple were think­ing, and I sensed that this race is wide open,” Cas­tro said.

Last month, some 20 po­ten­tial fun­ders for Cas­tro gath­ered at a down­town San An­to­nio law of­fice, in­vited by Hous­ton lawyer Scott At­las, who is likely to have a key post in the cam­paign.

Can­di­dates’ vi­a­bil­ity will be mea­sured early by their ca­pac­ity to rake in cash, and Cas­tro’s vow to forgo PAC con­tri­bu­tions could com­pli­cate that task. But he left the meet­ing confident, he says, that his cam­paign can com­pete in the money chase.

“A lot of peo­ple who have sup­ported me for a long time are ea­ger to ac­ti­vate their net­works to raise money,” he said.

In Iowa, where vot­ers seem loath to take chances with stakes so high, Cas­tro had to make the case that he can sur­vive ab­sent la­bor union cash and other big checks.

“There is so much on the line,” Tony Cur­rin, 48, a Team­sters Union mem­ber from Iowa City, said plead­ingly to Cas­tro. “My vote is pre­cious, and I’ve been burned by peo­ple who are will­ing to die on the cross.”

“To put it in my own lan­guage,” Cas­tro re­sponded, “you’re ask­ing if I’m tak­ing a knife to a gun­fight.”

Cas­tro added: “There are a lot of other chal­lenges, but the prob­lem is not go­ing to be money.”

A break­through sce­nario?

Since the last quar­ter of the 20th cen­tury, suc­cess in the Iowa cau­cuses or the New Hamp­shire pri­mary eight days later has been the sure path to suc­cess. Not win­ning or plac­ing near the top in those two states has forced many from both par­ties to aban­don their races, bereft of donor sup­port.

Cas­tro’s al­lies be­lieve that ex­pec­ta­tions might have changed in the era of Trump. Cas­tro speaks con­fi­dently about con­tend­ing in the early go­ing. But sup­port­ers pin their hopes on the front-loaded pri­mary sched­ule.

Cau­cuses in Ne­vada, where His­pan­ics make up 28 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion, fol­low New Hamp­shire. Then, af­ter the South Car­olina pri­mary, Texas and Cal­i­for­nia, home to more than half the na­tion’s Lati­nos, are among the nine states ex­pected to have Su­per Tues­day pri­maries on March 3.

Jeremy Bird, for one, be­lieves the clout of Iowa could be di­min­ished this cy­cle by the vol­ume of can­di­dates di­vid­ing sup­port. He broke down where Cas­tro might fit in the com­pe­ti­tion.

“He will be in the younger, more out­sider cat­e­gory, per­haps the only Latino, some­body who has been a mayor, some­body who has the ben­e­fit of not be­ing from a blue, coastal state. And, I think, he is some­one with a lot of per­sonal char­ac­ter­is­tics that are unique in the field,” said Bird, who leads a pro­ject to train cam­paign staff for 2020.

“I think he is some­body who has the po­ten­tial to break out,” he added.

Bird’s ad­vice? “He needs to at­tract and re­tain high-level tal­ent at the na­tional level and in states that mat­ter early in the process. And he needs to hone his mes­sage. Vot­ers need to know clearly what he stands for and why he is run­ning.”

At Stan­ford Univer­sity, where the Cas­tro brothers spent their un­der­grad­u­ate years, po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor Luis Fraga, a Texas na­tive, coun­seled them and en­listed them in his re­search.

Fraga, now di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute for Latino Stud­ies at the Univer­sity of Notre Dame, as­serted that the brothers’ “so­phis­ti­cated un­der­stand­ing of pol­i­tics” sur­passed that of any of his students in over three decades.

Fraga, who plans to be in San An­to­nio for the an­nounce­ment, said: “I al­ways knew that they would go back home and use it as a base to en­ter of­fice and use their of­fices as a way to ex­tend op­por­tu­ni­ties like the op­por­tu­ni­ties pro­vided to them.”

Re­fer­ring to Julián, Fraga said: “He was very se­ri­ous and very ma­ture and clearly un­der­stood that strat­egy is ex­tremely im­por­tant in achiev­ing both elected and pol­icy suc­cess.”

In De­cem­ber, a track­ing poll of 2,800 Lati­nos around the coun­try pointed to the im­pact Cas­tro’s can­di­dacy could have on Latino turnout in 2020.

The sur­vey, spon­sored by the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Latino Elected and Ap­pointed Of­fi­cials (NALEO), found that two-thirds of Latino vot­ers said they would be more likely to vote Demo­cratic if a Latino was on the bal­lot.

Start of the dig­i­tal cam­paign

Be­fore head­ing to New Hamp­shire next week, Cas­tro plans to travel on Sun­day to Puerto Rico to meet with in­flu­en­tial His­pan­ics at a gath­er­ing spon­sored by the Demo­cratic-aligned Latino Vic­tory Fund.

“It’s as­pi­ra­tional for our com­mu­ni­ties and our al­lies to see some­one like him,” said Cristo­bal Alex, pres­i­dent of Latino Vic­tory Fund. “I think peo­ple and (money) bundlers are go­ing to take him un­der their wings.”

In in­ter­views, Cas­tro de­scribed the highly dig­i­tal cam­paign he will run. Last year, his Op­por­tu­nity First PAC made its big­gest ex­pen­di­tures to dig­i­tal com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing $127,000 to the com­pany headed by Joe Rospars, who was chief dig­i­tal strate­gist in Obama’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns and worked on Bernie Sanders’ behalf in 2016.

Cas­tro said that Democrats in Iowa and else­where can ex­pect to see ads on­line ask­ing them to take part in his cam­paign and raise money.

“Ev­ery as­pect of the cam­paign, from com­mu­ni­ca­tions to or­ga­niz­ing to fundrais­ing, runs through dig­i­tal me­dia th­ese days,” he said.

Lit­tle has changed dur­ing Cas­tro’s plan­ning other than the emer­gence of O’Rourke. The for­mer El Paso con­gress­man’s adroit use of Face­book and his gaudy fundrais­ing hauls last year ($38 mil­lion in a sin­gle quar­ter) may be a fac­tor in his leapfrog­ging other po­ten­tial can­di­dates in re­cent polls.

Cas­tro gets ques­tions about O’Rourke wher­ever he goes. “Is it Julián’s time or is it Beto’s time?” he was asked at a ra­dio sta­tion in San An­to­nio this week

Cas­tro as­serted that nei­ther O’Rourke’s en­try or that of any other con­tes­tant will al­ter the course of his pur­suit.

“It’s not go­ing to change what I do. That’s why I made the de­ci­sion to jump in on my own time­line – early. I’m not con­cerned about what other peo­ple are go­ing to do,” he said on the eve of his dec­la­ra­tion.

“I’m go­ing to ar­tic­u­late a strong pos­i­tive vi­sion for the coun­try and give peo­ple some­thing to be­lieve in, not just to be against. I know who I have to reach and how I want it to res­onate. And we’re go­ing to do that,” he said.

“That’s why I made the de­ci­sion to jump in on my own time­line – early. I’m not con­cerned about what other peo­ple are go­ing to do.” Julián Cas­tro

Pho­tos by Lisa Krantz / Staff pho­tog­ra­pher

Julián Cas­tro takes a break dur­ing a tele­vi­sion in­ter­view about his ex­pected pres­i­den­tial an­nounce­ment at his home in San An­to­nio on Thurs­day.

Cas­tro with wife, Erica, and son, Cris­tián, 4, get ready Thurs­day for the week­end’s events that go with the an­nounce­ment.

Pho­tos by Lisa Krantz / Staff pho­tog­ra­pher

Julián Cas­tro braves the rain at Guadalupe Plaza and ex­plores the stage Fri­day for his pres­i­den­tial an­nounce­ment today. With him are his wife, Erica, and their son, Cris­tián, 4.

Nancy Reyna en­ters La Pop­u­lar Bak­ery, where a sign on the door ad­ver­tises Julián Cas­tro’s an­nounce­ment. The event is today at Guadalupe Plaza near the bak­ery.

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