As Democrats browse through potential 2016 vice presidential candidates looking for someone young, exciting, and different, does it really come down to Julian Castro—or nothing?
It’s no surprise that the U.S. Housing Secretary, a 40-year-old rising star in the Democratic Party, is rumored to be on Hillary Clinton’s veep short list. Certainly, he’s already out there auditioning for the job by defending Clinton’s decision to use a private email server as Secretary of State and dismissing Republican criticism as “a witch hunt.”
The surprise is that there is a new rumor circulating that suggests Castro’s name is the only one on the list.
For Henry Cisneros, who served as U.S. Housing Secretary in the Clinton administration, the idea is a no-brainer.
“What I am hearing in Washington, including from people in Hillary Clinton’s campaign, is that the first person on their lists is Julian Castro, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, who used to be the mayor of San Antonio,” Cisneros told Jorge Ramos, host of Al Punto, Univision’s Sunday show. “They don’t have a second option, because he is the superior candidate considering his record, personality, demeanor, and Latin heritage.”
Castro and his twin brother, Joaquin, a congressman from San Antonio, were born in the United States. But their grandmother, Victoria, crossed the U.S.-Mexico border as a child in 1920. Castro is popular, even beloved, among segments of the highly consequential Latino community—especially among Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, a subset that represent about two-thirds of the estimated 54 million Latinos in the United States.
Latinos matter because every month, about 50,000 of them turn 18 and become eligible to vote. Mexicans and Mexican-Americans matter disproportionately because they’re swing voters who are largely in play, more so than conservative Cuban-Americans or Central Americans who tend to vote Republican or liberal Puerto Ricans and Dominican-Americans who tend to vote Democratic. Most Mexicans and Mexican-Americans are registered Democrats, but they will support moderate Republicans who reach out to them. Just ask George W. Bush, who earned 44 percent of the Latino vote against John Kerry in 2004.
With Latinos figuring prominently in three battleground states—Colorado, Nevada and Florida—those are votes that Democrats can’t afford to lose. Putting Castro on the ticket would be an insurance policy.
“I think there is a very high possibility that Hillary Clinton may choose Julian Castro,” Cisneros told Ramos.
There is an equally high possibility that Cisneros may have spoken too soon, or that he might be working an angle.
I’ve known Castro for more than 12 years, and we’ve shared many conversations—on and off the record. Yet I’ve never thought about my friend being vice presidential material. At least not yet.
Personally, I think Cisneros—a first-rate political operator, whom I’ve known twice as long as I’ve known Castro—is up to something. He could be turning up the heat on Clinton, pressuring her to choose Castro. He could be establishing himself as the go-between, telling people that—if Castro is chosen to join the ticket—getting to the candidate means going through him. Or he could be trying to keep Latinos enthused about the 2016 election, giving them some hope that a party that takes them for granted could throw them a bone.
Still, Cisneros is right about how slim the pickings are for Democrats. As prospective veep candidates go, beyond Castro, who else is there? Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont is running a quixotic campaign against Clinton. Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley has announced he's running, too. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is someone that many on the left would like to see enter the race, but who doesn’t seem interested. And Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, a favorite within Democratic circles, is seen as someone who could appeal to a number of demographic groups.
But even with those Democratic candidates’ and their respective strengths, Castro could be a better fit. He would certainly be an exciting choice. The 40-year-old has a great resume, having graduated from Stanford University and Harvard Law School before returning home to San Antonio to run successfully for the City Council and eventually serve three terms as mayor. His big break came in 2012, when he delivered the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. Soon thereafter, he joined the Obama cabinet.
Now Castro has the attention of insiders. Last month, my Daily Beast colleague Eleanor Clift suggested that Castro was being put through a kind of informal “VP training camp” by the elders of the Democratic Party. Another Beast, Matt Lewis, thinks Castro is all sizzle and no carne asada, recently calling him “the least-qualified nominee for the job in decades.”
Of course, governors and senators are the safe choice when picking a running mate. But there aren’t many Latino Democrats at that level. Here’s why: There is a hierarchy in place with the Democratic Party where liberal whites and African-Americans expect Latino leaders to turn out Latino voters to support their candidates while discouraging those leaders from seeking the top jobs themselves.
It happened to Castro, in fact. After the convention speech, when his stock was high, Democratic leaders in Texas pressured him to pass on a run for governor in 2014 and instead support the party’s choice: State Sen. Wendy Davis, who was eventually soundly defeated.
Castro also has a quality that Americans are hungry for in their elected officials: humility. Growing up in the working-class part of San Antonio, the Castro brothers learned that they were entitled to nothing and better than no one. They don’t think America owes them anything. On the contrary, they’re the ones with a debt to repay.
You know who that sounds like? The one Republican that Democrats are most afraid of, because they don’t know how to run against him and they’re not sure they can beat him.
Marco Rubio hit a home run with the speech in which he formally announced his candidacy. The senator from Florida talked about his parents—the father who worked as a bartender, and the mother who labored as a hotel maid—and how they never expected anything from this country and only wanted the chance to work hard so that their children could realize their dreams.
That’s pure gold, especially during an election where Americans have to choose between two well-known brands. Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush have one thing in common: They’re both running for president because they think they’re entitled to the office. Simply put, it’s their turn.
If Rubio wins the Republican nomination and squares off against Clinton, don’t be surprised if many Latinos—even some lifelong Democrats—break ranks to support him.
And, as Clinton searches for a running mate, “qualified” will come down to this: Can this person help me stop the bleeding and keep Latinos in the Democratic column?
Democrats will be looking for a counterweight to Rubio, someone from humble beginnings who understands that America is an idea that is so much larger than special interests and individual ambition.
Luckily, they have someone like that warming up in the bullpen.