Julian Castro – The New Hope of Texas Democrats?
By: Jason Byrd, Contributor
Last night, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro delivered the keynote address at the opening night of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. Prior to the speech, much was made that this was the same time slot given to little-known Illinois state senator Barack Obama in 2004. But is Julian Castro the future of the Democratic Party in Texas? Does the Democratic Party have a future at all in Texas?
To be sure, Castro is a political superstar on the rise. Only 37 years old, Castro now has garnered serious national attention. Perhaps more importantly, he may have garnered attention state-wide. Prior to last night’s keynote speech, I would argue that most Texans outside of San Antonio did not know of Julian and quite a few still may not. However, no one could argue that last night’s exposure has not raised Mr. Castro’s profile. But in a state where a democrat has not won a statewide election since 1994, can the new, higher profile of Julian Castro raise the Texas Democratic Party from the ashes?
Many Texans, in a knee-jerk reaction, will laugh at the foregoing question and not take it seriously. Those in the know, however, worry about this question, despite the power they maintain right now. After all, a republican did not hold statewide office in Texas for nearly 100 years. However, if the Texas Democrats are going to rise from the ashes, they will need more than Julian Castro as their phoenix.
First, to succeed they must portray an accurate message of who they are and what they represent. As I wrote last week, I am a Texas Democrat, and there are many like me that are fairly socially conservative. For me, this is a product of my youth, upbringing and who I am. The one constant among us is our culture as Texans. A Texas democrat is not a California or Yankee liberal. We all know this to be true, whether we refuse to admit it or not. Hints of this mindset were constant through Castro’s speech when he talked of personal responsibility and pulling one’s self up by the bootstraps.
Texas democrats must take advantage of the demographics to succeed. Like it or not, the Republican Party has not particularly embraced Hispanics and over the last few years has sullied its reputation among women. Embracing a culture is going to take more than throwing Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz at a podium or Michelle Bachman, in the case of women, in front of a podium and saying “see, we have some too.” Speaking Spanish on commercials but addressing absolutely no policy issues has also not helped the republicans’ cause with Hispanics.
So, if Hispanics and, to a lesser extent, women are a crucial voting block and are increasingly hostile towards republicans, why don’t they wield more political power in the blood red state of Texas? The answer: they don’t show up to vote.
Despite some efforts to get out the vote, the Hispanic population in Texas remains apathetic. This group continues to show up to the polls less consistently than any other. When they do, they tend to vote 2-1 for democrats, and sometimes higher. Thus, voter turnout is a key for democrats to begin a statewide resurgence. How this is possible, or accomplished, I do not know. However, I do know that in other states, voter participation projects have been extremely successful within the Hispanic community. I can only expect that Texas democratic leaders have investigated these programs.
What is more intriguing, though, is that in time, voter turnout may not even matter. Although I have seen no empirical data on this issue, common sense dictates that the Hispanic community in Texas is increasing at a faster rate than the rest of the population. At some point, the political capital and strength of this population will only grow, even if the same rate of participation in the electoral process continues. Although I have not been able to get a pollster or other politically savvy statistician to go on record on this point, they will anonymously tell me that this voting shift occurs in the 2020 cycle. Thus, if the Democratic Party in Texas simply maintains the status quo, Texas will become a swing state in 2020.
So Julian Castro has landed on the national stage. In a way maybe only a Texas Democrat can do, he mixed rhetoric with a hint of personal responsibility and at the same time embraced a culture that has embraced him. The current Texas Democratic Party is undoubtedly his oyster. With some party organization, and even a mediocre get-out-the-vote effort in key Hispanic areas of the state, he could be the first elected state-wide democrat. And as the numbers indicate, such a shocker could happen even sooner than anyone would have previously imagined.
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