An immensely frustrating time for Julián Castro

by Raul A. Reyes

Another Democratic presidential hopeful has exited the 2020 race. On Thursday, Julián Castro announced via a video message that he was suspending his campaign.

“I’ve determined that it simply isn’t our time,” he said, adding that he was dropping out with “a heavy heart, and profound gratitude.” While he did not go into specifics about his future plans, the former secretary of Housing and Urban Development stated that he was not done fighting. “I’ll keep working towards a nation where everyone counts, a nation where everyone can get a good job, good health care and a decent place to live.”

While Castro’s announcement was not unexpected, it was disappointing. He was in some respects, with his inclusive message, the antithesis of President Donald Trump. He brought an important perspective to the debates. And he showed that a qualified Latino — specifically, a third-generation Mexican-American — could compete at the highest level of politics. Coming soon after Kamala Harris dropped out, Castro’s decision further reduces the much-needed diversity of the Democratic field. That’s a loss to the Democratic Party as well as to Latinos and all Americans.

In theory, Castro seemed like an ideal candidate — and perhaps would have been, in a different election cycle. Aside from his Hispanic roots — vitally important at a time where Latinos are projected to be the country’s largest group of nonwhite voters — he holds Ivy League degrees and was the former mayor of San Antonio. He served in the Obama Cabinet. He was telegenic, and unafraid to raise challenging questions on the national stage. In the June debate, for example, he came out in support of decriminalizing unauthorized border crossings as a way of ensuring that family separations never occurred again.

But Castro was not a single-issue candidate focused on immigration. To his great credit, he consistently spoke up for the rights of marginalized communities, from the homeless to transgender people. He reminded viewers in the October debate that “Police violence is also gun violence,” before mentioning the names of African American and Latino victims of police shootings. He was an important voice for the concerns of communities of color at a time when many Latinos and minorities feel targeted by bigoted rhetoric and violence.

Throughout his campaign Castro was an underdog. Despite his credentials and experience, he never received the adulatory press coverage of Beto O’Rourke or Pete Buttigieg. Unlike Joe Biden, he seemed to get little credit for his tenure in the Obama administration. Though he favored a single-payer health care plan (like Bernie Sanders) and did not take PAC money (like Elizabeth Warren), he was often overlooked by the mainstream media on issues besides immigration, especially those that typically appeal to progressive voters. When Castro did merit coverage, journalists often focused on the irrelevant fact that he spoke less-than-fluent Spanish.

Nonetheless, Castro showed America that a progressive Latino can compete at the highest level of politics and hold his own. For Latinos, he was living proof that a Hispanic deserved positive national attention. And unlike former presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, Castro was — like the majority of US Latinos — Mexican American, and very proud of his humble origins.

It must have been immensely frustrating for Castro and his supporters that he was never able to break into the top tier of Democratic candidates; he rarely registered in national polls. This may be because of the nature of our political process, which is driven by money and media coverage. Consider that Castro and Harris are out of the race while Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer are still in. It remains a fact that without money and coverage, it is hard to break through in the polls, no matter how strong your ground game or grass-roots support. In addition, Castro himself has questioned the wisdom of according states like Iowa and New Hampshire such disproportionate influence in the nominating process, as they are hardly representative of the national electorate.

“The media’s flawed formula for ‘electability’ has pushed aside women and candidates of color,” Castro said on Twitter when Kamala Harris left the 2020 race in December. “Our party’s diversity is our strength.”

He was correct, and those same words can be applied to his run at the nomination. If voters were not ready to embrace Castro, there is no doubt that he was ready and qualified to lead — and that he will be missed.

Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and a member of the USA Today board of contributors. Follow him on Twitter @RaulAReyes.

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