San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro to deliver keynote speech at Democratic convention
Castro, a rising star, is the first Latino ever to keynote the Democratic convention.
San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro will deliver the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in September, becoming the first Latino ever to be chosen for the prestigious slot.
Castro, 37, will address the crowd on the opening night of the convention on Tuesday Sept. 4 in Charlotte, N.C., where Democrats will officially renominate President Obama for a second term. Castro’s prime speaking spot is sure to stoke speculation about his political future, since Obama’s keynote address in 2004 helped launch his national political career. As is tradition, also speaking that night will be the First Lady, Michelle Obama.
In a video announcement, Castro recalled being inspired by Obama’s speech four years ago, especially by his message that “the promise of America where everyone has a decent shot at life.”
“Being the keynote speaker at the convention this year is an honor I don’t take lightly,” Castro said. “I know I’ve got some big shoes to fill.”
He praised the president’s first-term record on healthcare and the economy, saying that Obama deserves a second term to see his policies through.
“We’ve come so far over the past three and a half years under Obama’s leadership. And I know he’s not done yet. We got a lot more work to do,” he added.
The selection of Castro is the most evident sign yet that Democrats view him as a rising star within the party who could one day run for the nation’s highest office. It also comes as Obama’s campaign is looking to Latino voters to help him in a second term.
The duty of keynote speaker is typically bequeathed to promising political figures. Barack Obama’s keynote address, delivered while he was a little-known Illinois state senator, introduced him to the national stage on his way to winning a seat in the U.S. Senate at the age of 43. Four years later, he would be elected as the nation’s first black president.
Other past Democratic keynote speakers include Virginia Sen. Mark Warner in 2008, then-Rep. Harold Ford (Tenn.) in 2000, and then-Indiana Gov. Evan Bayh in 1996. The last Texan to keynote the Democratic convention was then-Gov. Ann Richards in 1988. The first Hispanic politician to keynote a major party convention was U.S. Treasurer Katherine Ortega at the 1984 Republican National Convention.
Castro’s Mexican-American heritage and his political skills have put him on the radar as someone who could fill the position of his party’s Latino standard-bearer at a time when Latino voters are gaining more and more political influence.
“Julián Castro has a very good chance of becoming the first Hispanic president of the United States,” Mark McKinnon, a long-time Texas political operative who served as an aide to former to George W. Bush, told the New York Times in 2010 profile of the mayor.
Castro, the son of Mexican-American political activist Rosie Castro, was raised in a working-class neighborhood in San Antonio, and went on to graduate from Stanford University and Harvard Law School with his twin brother Joaquín, who is running for Congress. He won the position of mayor in 2009 and won reelection in 2011 with nearly 83 percent of the vote and is currently the youngest mayor of a top 50 U.S. city.
He, along with his brother, are among a growing coterie of a younger generation of Latino political leaders in both parties who could compete in national elections in future years. Unlike many other Latino politicians, however, Castro is not fluent in Spanish.
Castro’s selection could also be meant to serve a short-term purpose for Democrats, who need to energize Obama’s Latino supporters in order to win key battleground states in November. At the same time, the move strikes at Romney’s weakness among Latino voters.
Polls consistently show Obama leading his GOP opponent Mitt Romney by 40 percentage points, but they also show that Latino voters are less enthusiastic about voting than the general population. A handful of key battleground states contain large populations of Mexican-American voters, such as Colorado and Nevada.
The mayor’s home state of Texas has long been a Republican bastion, which could make his political climb tough beyond San Antonio’s city hall. But Democrats have long eyed the state’s explosive Latino population growth as a way to make the state purple. Latinos accounted for 65 percent of Texas’ population growth since 2000, but so far, they have punched below their weight at the ballot box. Democrats desperately want to change that and Castro could serve as a catalyst in that respect.
“You’re not considered one of the battleground states, although that’s going to be changing soon,” Obama told the crowd at a San Antonio fundraiser this month, where Castro was in attendance in his capacity as an Obama campaign co-chairman.
On the contrary, Republicans have struggled in recent elections to remain competitive with Latino voters and Democrats see and opportunity on the horizon to win over Latinos for a generation or more.
But the GOP has also developed their own bench of talented Latino politicians. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American, has quickly risen up the GOP ranks and he is under consideration as a vice presidential nominee this year. Many believe he could run for president in 2016. George P. Bush, the son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush whose mother is a Mexican-born U.S. citizen, is active in GOP politics in Texas. And former Texas solicitor general Ted Cruz, a Cuban-American, could win the GOP’s Senate nomination Tuesday.
(Photo: Flickr, JaimeRPuente)