Breaking News Emails
Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
By Suzanne Gamboa
SAN ANTONIO — Julián Castro, a former U.S. Cabinet secretary, launched his presidential campaign in the hometown where he served as mayor for three terms. The announcement surprised few, but puts him near the front of what is expected to be a jam-packed field of White House hopefuls.
Making the announcement at Plaza Guadalupe in the San Antonio West Side neighborhood where he grew up, Castro said in English and Spanish on Saturday that he is running for president.
The grandson of an immigrant from Mexico, Castro said his grandmother could have never imagined that two generations later one son would be a member of Congress and another would be standing before the crowd to say, “I am a candidate for the president of the United States of America.” Castro, who was referring to his twin brother U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro, then repeated his candidacy in Spanish.
Dozens of other Democrats who hope to challenge President Donald Trump in 2020 will likely follow fast after Castro. That field could include U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso, Texas, who rose to national fame in a failed bid for the U.S. Senate and is scheduled next month for an interview with Oprah Winfrey.
That could be troublesome, in particular for Castro when it comes to raising money at least in Texas.
But Castro’s early-out-of-the-gate status gives the still-forming Democratic field an early appearance of racial diversity with a candidate whose ancestral roots are in Mexico — the country that Trump, in his 2015 presidential candidacy announcement, said was sending rapists, drug traffickers and criminals to the U.S.
In an interview with NBC News this week, Castro described himself as the “antidote” to Trump.
At the event as an estimated 3,000 people cheered him on, Castro said, “You give me your support, and I give you my word: I will spend every day working hard to make sure you can get a good job, find a decent place to live, have good health care when you get sick and that your children and grandchildren can reach their dreams, no matter who you are or where you come from.”
Castro pledged that if elected his first executive order would return the United States to the Paris Climate Accord, an international agreement on climate change. Trump withdrew the country from it. He also said his administration would invest in affordable housing for the middle class and poor.
Castro made the announcement flanked by his wife Erica Lira Castro, his children Carina and Cristian. His mother Rosie, a Chicano activist who took him to political activities as a young boy introduced him as a son of San Antonio, son of Texas, a son of the West Side (of San Antonio), and a son of this country.
His identical twin, Joaquín Castro and other speakers made their case for his presidential run, underscoring a platform that contrasted him to Trump, such as valuing a free press, his work creating educational opportunity, reducing homelessness for veterans and access to health care.
Castro has a lot of work to do to introduce himself to Americans — or reminding them who he is.
Other potential candidates, such as Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has formed an exploratory committee, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey and O’Rourke, have had the benefit of the being in public office and the national spotlight recently.
Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii announced Friday that she would also run for president.
But Castro’s candidacy comes just after the party saw an increased Latino turnout in the 2018 midterms, helping the party to take control of the U.S. House.
“There is a real frustration in our community and desire to show we can’t be bullied,” said Oscar Ramirez, a Democratic strategist. “He has a real opportunity to show that our community has some real power and can’t be pushed around.”
After Obama finished his second term and Clinton lost, Castro left Washington and returned to Texas, where he wrote his memoir “An Unlikely Journey: Waking from my American Dream” and taught university courses in Austin.
He passed on running for Texas governor last year, as did many other Democrats. But Castro kept his hand in the political arena, forming a PAC to contribute to candidates, such as including Stacey Abrams, who lost a bid for Georgia governor and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, and potential future backers.
Castro burst on the national scene in 2012 when he delivered the keynote address at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. But Hillary Clinton passed on naming him her running mate in 2016.
Castro was elected San Antonio’s mayor in 2009 and re-elected to two more terms before Obama tapped him to be secretary of HUD, the federal agency that oversees public housing, which Castro lived in during his youth.
At 26, Castro was the youngest person elected to the City Council of San Antonio, the nation’s seventh largest city.
Raised by his grandmother Victoriana and mother, Castro overcame his family’s modest upbringing to attend Stanford and Harvard Law School.
“He’s got an amazing story to tell,” said Democratic consultant Larry Gonzalez, a principal of the Raben Group in Washington. “The Castro family story is the quintessential American story. It is one that will resonate with a lot of Americans who are looking for opportunities that are slipping away. Julian will run a campaign that will address that and resonate with Americans.”