SAN ANTONIO — Julián Castro launched his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for president Saturday morning in his hometown of San Antonio.
“When my grandmother got here almost 100 years ago, I’m sure she never could have imagined that, just two generations later, one of her grandsons would be serving as a member of the United States Congress and the other would be standing with you here today to say these words: I am a candidate for president of the United States of America,” Castro said.
The crowd of about 2,500 supporters chanted his name, and Castro repeated the declaration in Spanish.
The former mayor of San Antonio was standing in Plaza Guadalupe, nestled in the West Side neighborhood where he was baptized and grew up.
“So many journeys for me and for my family began right here, and today we begin another one,” said Castro, who was joined on stage by his wife, Erica Lira Castro, their daughter Carina, 9, and their son Christián, 4.
“This is a community built by immigrants. … Today, this community represents America’s future — diverse, fast-growing, optimistic, a place where people of different backgrounds have come together to create something truly special. And I am proud to call myself a son of San Antonio,” the candidate said.
But, Julián Castro said, he was running for president because the American Dream that made his success possible was becoming harder to achieve.
“Six years ago, I had the honor of standing before the Democratic National Convention. I said then that the American Dream is not a sprint or a marathon but a relay,” he said. “But right now, the relay isn’t working. Today we’re falling backwards instead of moving forward. And the opportunities that made America, America are reaching fewer and fewer people.”
Castro called for Medicare for all, universal prekindergarten, increasing the minimum wage, protecting women’s right to abortion and workers’ right to organize.
“As president, my first executive order will recommit the United States to the Paris climate accord,” Castro said. “We’re going to say no to subsidizing big oil and say yes to passing a green New Deal.”
He said he would finance his campaign “without accepting a dime of PAC money.”
“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 said. “We have always been at our best when we’re united by something bigger. And in this journey, in the days to come, together we will show that hope can be bigger than fear. That light can be bigger than darkness, and that truth can be bigger than lies.”
Castro was introduced by his mother, Rosie Castro, a well-known political and civil rights activist in San Antonio, who called him a son of San Antonio, a son of this neighborhood and son of the United States.
Castro’ mother was introduced by his twin brother.
“Are you ready to elect a new president in 2020?” U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro, D-San Antonio, asked the crowd. “Are you ready to elect my brother president?”
Earlier, a series of speakers talked about how Julián Castro’s public work had touched their lives.
“This next election won’t be about left vs. right, it will be right vs. wrong,” said state Rep. James Talarico, D-Round Rock, the newly elected youngest member of the Legislature, who taught at a nearby middle school and called Castro “my hero.” He praised Castro for his courage as mayor in risking his political capital by spearheading a successful ballot initiative to increase the sales tax to expand prekindergarten programs.
Sandra Contrera said Castro’s Pre-K 4 San Antonio program transformed her life and that of her three children.
Carmen Lidia talked about how her life was changed by Café College, a one-stop center providing guidance on college admissions, financial aid and standardized test preparation to any San Antonio student, a program Castro created in 2010.
Ashwani Jain, who worked for Julián Castro as deputy White House liaison at the Department of Housing and Urban Development during Castro’s tenure as the department’s secretary in the final years of the Obama administration, called Castro his mentor.
Jain said that under Castro’s leadership, HUD expanded broadband access in public housing, increased rental assistance, fought housing discrimination and reduced veteran homelessness by half. He said that Castro also inspired and supported his unsuccessful candidacy for Montgomery County Council in Maryland.
Jain offered a litany of things in which “Julián believes” — the free press, universal health care, climate change, LGBTQ rights, public school funding, survivors of sexual assault, not separating children from their parents.
“That’s why I believe in Julián,” Jain said.
Castro has been methodically preparing for the race over the last year. He recently published a book, “An Unlikely Journey: Waking Up From My American Dream.”
Castro is not in the first tier of likely Democratic candidates in the polls. He has been eclipsed in the past year by the sudden rise of Beto O’Rourke, the former El Paso congressman whose strong but losing bid to unseat U.S. Sen Ted Cruz, R-Texas, last year vaulted him into that top tier of presidential prospects.
Asked by a reporter after Saturday’s event if she thought O’Rourke should also run for president, Castro’s mother replied, “No, but that’s up to Beto.”
Texas Democrats have for years dreamed of one of the Castro brothers running for statewide office, but they took a pass, as Joaquín gained influence in Washington and Julián, who was among those Hillary Clinton considered as her running mate in 2016, set his sights higher.
“My brother doesn’t start this race with the biggest name or the biggest bank account; he’s never started out as a front-runner,” said Joaquín Castro, who is chairing the campaign. “But he has beaten bigger odds than this to succeed.”
The odds in what promises to be a packed field are long, but Castro starts with some clear assets that might enable him to stand out even in a crowd.
He may well be the leading Hispanic candidate in the race, a strong draw for an electoral constituency vital to Democratic fortunes, and for a party looking for a ticket that will reflect the nation’s changing demographics. As a Texan, Castro could also potentially put the Lone Star state in play in 2020, the dream prize for Democrats and Republicans’ greatest nightmare.
As U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who is up for re-election in 2020, said at a joint appearance last week with Cruz at an Austin event sponsored by the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation Policy: “As Ted’s campaign demonstrates, we are going to have a monumental battle again in 2020. If we lose Texas, we will never elect a conservative president again.
“Texas is going to be that battleground in 2020,” Cornyn said.
Perhaps no Democratic candidate could offer a starker contrast to President Donald Trump than a self-effacing, third-generation Mexican-American from San Antonio, the nation’s largest majority Hispanic city.
Castro is also, at 44, along with O’Rourke, 46, part of a new generation of candidates trying to break through in a field where the best-known potential candidates are senior citizens. Former Vice President Joe Biden is 76. Vermont’s U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders is 77. Massachusetts’ U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren is 69. A younger candidate could have great appeal for a party seeking to find an attractive alternative to Trump, who is 72.
Castro’s youth also means he could make a run that could be considered a success even if he does not become the nominee, propelling him to the vice presidency or a prominent place in a future Democratic administration, and, if he acquits himself well, positioning him for a future run for the presidency.
On the most basic level, having an identical twin who has had parallel success in politics is a great advantage, providing Castro with the ultimate political surrogate, soulmate and trusted adviser.
The Castros both graduated from Jefferson High School in San Antonio and from Stanford University and Harvard Law School.
In 2001, Julián Castro was elected to the San Antonio City Council. He ran and lost for mayor in 2005, but was elected mayor in 2009 and re-elected in 2011 and 2013.