from The Water's Edge

Meet Julián Castro, Democratic Presidential Candidate

Julián Castro listens at a gathering of Tri-City Young Democrats in Somersworth, New Hampshire, U.S., January 15, 2019. Reuters/Brian Snyder

February 5, 2019

Julián Castro listens at a gathering of Tri-City Young Democrats in Somersworth, New Hampshire, U.S., January 15, 2019. Reuters/Brian Snyder
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Julián Castro is seeking do what no Democrat has done in ninety-six years: win the party’s presidential nomination without first having been either a governor, senator, or vice president. The last person to accomplish that feat was John Davis of West Virginia in 1924. Castro no doubt hopes the parallel ends there. Davis lost the presidential race by twenty-five percentage points. If Castro does win the Democratic presidential nomination, he will become the first Mexican-American, the first identical twin, and the first former secretary of Housing and Urban Development to become a presidential nominee.

The Basics

Name: Julián Castro

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Date of Birth: September 16, 1974

Place of Birth: San Antonio, Texas

Religion: Roman Catholic

Political Party: Democratic Party

Marital Status: Married (Erica Lira)

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Children: Carina (Nine) and Christian (Four)

Alma Mater: Stanford University (BA); Harvard University (JD)

Career: Lawyer; San Antonio City Councilmember (2001-2005); Mayor of San Antonio (2009-2014); Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (2014-2017)

Campaign Website: https://www.julianforthefuture.com/

Twitter Handle: @JulianCastro  

Castro’s Announcement

Castro announced his run for the White House in his hometown of San Antonio. He emphasized his family’s history and his personal story.

That story will figure prominently in Castro’s pitch to American voters because, as he put it in his announcement, "My family's story is a testament to what is possible when this country gets it right."

Castro’s Story

Castro was born in San Antonio, Texas, one minute before his brother, Congressman Joaquín Castro. Politics came naturally to the twins. Their mother helped found La Raza Unida—a now-defunct political party that sought to give voice to Mexican-Americans. She always told them, “Make your future happen.” Their father was a math teacher and a community activist. Julián often talks reverentially of his maternal grandmother. She immigrated to the United States as a young girl after being orphaned in the Mexican Revolution. He credits her with having “played the role of the other parent.”

Both Castros attended Stanford as undergraduates, and they both graduated from Harvard Law School in 2000. Julián initially practiced law with the legendary firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld. He then started his own practice, again with Joaquín at his side. But his heart was set on politics. He won a seat on the San Antonio City Council in 2001. Four years later he ran for mayor, but lost. He ran again in 2009 and won. He did well enough that San Antonians reelected him in 2011 and 2013. He also began building his reputation beyond San Antonio. The World Economic Forum named him to its list of Young Global Leaders in 2010.

Castro’s rising star caught the eye of national Democrats. He delivered the keynote address at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. He was the first Latino to do so. A line from that speech laid out a theme he is likely to hit during the 2020 campaign: “The American dream is not a sprint, or even a marathon, but a relay. Our families don’t always cross the finish line in the span of one generation. But each generation passes on to the next the fruits of their labor.”

President Barack Obama nominated Castro in 2014 to serve as the sixteenth secretary of Housing and Urban Development. He was thirty-nine and the youngest member of the Obama cabinet. He was credited with making the department more efficient.

Castro’s Message

Castro prides himself on his roots. He believes America is “a place where dreams can become real.” He often cites his family and his rapid rise to success as the embodiment of the American Dream. He credits affirmative action for getting him to where he is today. Castro talks most about making healthcare, education, and housing affordable.

Castro’s name was floated as a potential running mate for Secretary Hillary Clinton in 2016. As a result, he has been painted as the future of the Democratic Party. But he doesn’t see himself as the only young change maker. “I’m convinced that a lot of young people are waking up, realizing that their generation has this new burden to choose light and optimism and expanding opportunity instead of a dark, pessimistic, divisive vision for the country that Trump and others have embraced.”

Castro is often described as cautious and calculating. He’s not known for speaking off-the-cuff.

Castro’s Foreign Policy Views

Domestic policy rather than foreign policy has been Castro’s passion. He hasn’t made a habit of weighing in on Middle East policy, arms-control agreements, or trade deals. That makes it hard to say how his views might evolve in the months to come. He all but ignored foreign policy in his presidential announcement speech. He did say that “The biggest threat to our prosperity in this 21st century is climate change.” He vowed that “as president, my first executive order will recommit the United States to the Paris climate accord." He also says he will push for a Green New Deal, a popular position with Democrats, though it’s unclear what it entails.

Castro doesn’t like President Trump’s America First foreign policy. Castro told Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press” in December that the president was “not giving the American people or our allies around the world any sense that there's a rationale for the decisions that he's making.” Castro cited Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria, accusing the president of “behaving extremely erratically.” Castro said, “I agree with folks that say, that both for our own sake, for the sake of our troops, for the sake of our allies, once you're there, you have to actually have a solid plan for how you're going to withdraw.”

Castro also noted on “Meet the Press” that he’s “not a big fan of the commitments America has made, over these last 15 years, whether it was the Iraq War or this [Syria] commitment.” He said something similar on C-SPAN last May: “We get stronger and safer the more that we exercise our soft power, and not necessarily our military power.”

In an interview last month with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Castro warned that Trump “is damaging the relationships that we’ve had in place in the post-World War II era." Castro went on to add: "The first thing that I would do if I were president with regard to our relationships around the world is to strengthen them, because those alliances have helped keep us safe."

Todd and Stephanopoulos both asked Castro whether he was qualified to be commander-in-chief. Castro answered by highlighting his experience as a cabinet secretary and mayor. He told Todd that the country needs someone with “some common sense” and “some impulse control” in the Oval Office. Castro says he has both.

While Castro’s foreign policy pronouncements are more retrospective than prospective, he has repeated one message: “If we make the right investments in brainpower, in infrastructure, in good jobs, it will make us stronger at home and around the world — and safer.” 

More on Castro

Castro has written the obligatory campaign book. His is entitled, An Unlikely Journey: Waking Up from My American Dream.

Castro caught the attention of the national media when he was elected mayor of San Antonio, the seventh largest city in the country, at the age of thirty-five. The New York Times Magazine profiled him in 2010, calling him “the post-Hispanic, Hispanic politician.”

Journalists like to point out that Julián and Joaquín are identical twins. Vogue profiled the pair back in 2013, describing them as a “pair of aces” who “are a one-two punch.” A 2015 profile in The Atlantic says the two brothers “never truly grew apart.”

Castro gave Rolling Stone an interview last fall. Among other things, he said that “Democrats have these two young, fast-growing constituencies, Latinos and Asian Americans, that, if invested in, could be a part of a blockbuster coalition for decades if not longer.”  

Castro’s first campaign trip wasn’t to Iowa but to Puerto Rico. That prompted the Texas Tribune to write that “his rollout also has highlighted his status as likely the only major Latino contender, and while he starts the race facing long odds, his candidacy alone represents a watershed moment for Latinos.”

Corey Cooper and Elizabeth Lordi assisted in the preparation of this post.

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