What we learned from Julián Castro’s speech
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro proved Tuesday night that he can hold his own on the national stage and showed glimpses of why some have speculated he could one day become the first Latino president.
Here are some of the takeaways we saw from the mayor’s keynote address.
It didn’t quite measure up to Obama 2004
In the lead up to Castro’s address, Democrats constantly suggested it would be a repeat of then-Illinois state Sen. Barack Obama’s memorable keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said Monday that 10 years from now, conventioneers would boast they were there to witness the speech. While Castro’s speech was very good, it’s hard to say it reached that level of transcendence.
Obama’s speech sought to rise above the trenches of the 2004 campaign and tell his soaring personal narrative. The Atlantic’s Molly Ball points out that Obama did not mention President George W. Bush once in his speech eight years ago:
Castro went on the attack against Romney. Obama’s 2004 keynote didn’t mention Bush at all. presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?p…— Molly Ball (@mollyesque) September 5, 2012
Part of Castro’s speech focused on his compelling personal story, but the crux of his speech offered a vigorous defense of President Obama and a withering attack on Mitt Romney. Castro’s focus on the events of this campaign made it difficult to give the kind of speech Obama delivered in 2004.
Why it was still a great speech
Castro eloquently told his story as a grandson of a poor Mexican immigrant whose family was able to achieve the American Dream through hard work and opportunities offered by others.
“The American dream is not a sprint, or even a marathon, but a relay,” Castro said. “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. My grandmother never owned a house. She cleaned other people’s houses so she could afford to rent her own. But she saw her daughter become the first in her family to graduate from college. And my mother fought hard for civil rights so that instead of a mop, I could hold this microphone.”
Castro was able to tie his personal narrative to the Democrats’ vision that the American Dream is achievable through the help of the community and an active government.
“Texas may be the one place where people still have bootstraps, and we expects folks to pull themselves up by them,” he said. “But we also recognize that there are some things we can’t do alone. We have to come together and invest in opportunity today and prosperity tomorrow.”
That message could resonate with Latinos and non-Latinos alike, demonstrating his appeal as a politician who can cross racial and ethnic boundaries.
While Castro may not have displayed the gravitas of an Obama or a Marco Rubio, he crafted his own tone as a “happy warrior” for the Democratic Party. His joke about Romney’s “extreme makeover” on healthcare went over well with the crowd of delegates here in Charlotte.
Many speculated about Castro’s political future after his speech Tuesday, but his path forward is unclear.
No Democrat has won statewide office in Texas since 1994 and Castro has said he’s not willing to consider a potential cabinet appointment should Obama win reelection. The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake writes that Castro’s rise might have to wait a few years:
While Julian Castro is mayor of one of the largest cities in the country and Joaquin Castro is a state representative and Congressional candidate, there’s almost certain to be another step (or two) between where they are now and any national ambitions they might hold. And making the leap to statewide office will be difficult for either, at least right now.
Texas hasn’t elected a Democratic governor or senator in more than two decades (the last was Gov. Ann Richards in 1990), and the last Democrats elected lieutenant governor and attorney general came in 1994. The latter two positions are considered the top springboards to either governor or senator.
Blake goes on to write that Texas’ rapidly growing Latino population could help Democrats become more competitive in the Lone Star State, but getting Latinos politically involved has so far proved difficult, if not impossible, for Democrats:
Currently, while Democrats can generally win around 45 percent of the vote in Texas, they struggle to get beyond that. In other words, they aren’t too far from being competitive. But it is a big state, and getting from 45 percent to 50 percent-plus-one could take some time.
And though Democrats have an edge over Republicans when it comes to support from Latino voters nationwide, the GOP has a much deeper bench of Latino politicians who are poised for a national campaign in the coming years (Marco Rubio, Brian Sandoval, Susana Martinez, etc.)
Whatever Castro’s next step is, his speech Tuesday night helped make it possible.
(Photo: Twitter: @Patricialicious)