Julián Castro, the 37-year-old mayor of San Antonio, Texas, is drawing comparisons to Barack Hussein Obama—and not just because they both share a name with a former dictator. When Castro was announced as the keynote speaker at the upcoming Democratic National Convention, stories focused on his background: a Harvard-educated pragmatist who is less left-wing than his mother, Rosie Castro, who heads the Mexican-American civil rights group La Raza Unida. The New York Times, echoing the way people used to speak of Obama, has called Castro the “post-Hispanic Hispanic politician.” Democrats must hope that Castro can do something that Obama hasn’t been able to do: deliver a major demographic advantage over the Republicans.
For 50 years, the Democrats have been losing ground among Caucasian voters. In the 2010 midterms, David Paul Kuhn, with the blog Real Clear Politics, wrote that they “performed worse with whites than in any other congressional election since the Second World War.” Some Democrats have argued the party needs to do more to court the white working class, but others have countered that the party should concentrate on wooing the growing Hispanic population, alienated by the Republicans’ anti-immigration policies. The strategy may have already helped in states like Colorado, which has become more Democratic, and Nevada, where Democratic Sen. Harry Reid managed to win a surprise re-election in 2010, based partly on Latino votes.
That strategy is very likely the reason Castro was chosen to deliver the keynote; it also explains why Obama is campaigning in Texas, a state he has almost no chance of winning. Though Texas hasn’t chosen a Democrat in a statewide election since 1994, it has pockets of Democratic power in urban areas like Castro’s own San Antonio and Houston, which elected an openly gay woman as mayor in 2010. Urban Texas, the Washington Post wrote last month, is “surprisingly fruitful territory” for Obama’s fundraising.
If Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, the keynote speaker for the Democrats in 2008, represented the technocratic moderate Southerners who helped elect Obama the first time around, Castro may represent the younger, less white electorate the Democrats see as key to their future.
Some have already warned that the Democrats can’t take the minority vote for granted: “Assimilation and shifting notions of racial identity could change the equation,” wrote Jamelle Bouie of American Prospect magazine. But the Republicans seem to be going out of their way to create fertile ground for the Democrats with Mexican-Americans. Ted Cruz, the Cuban-American Republican nominee for this year’s U.S. Senate election in Texas, ran a campaign commercial touting his role in helping Texas “execute an illegal alien”—José Medellín, a Mexican citizen. That kind of story provides an opening for politicians like Castro. Plus, he has an identical twin brother, Joaquin, a Texas state representative, so if Julián doesn’t work out, the Democrats could always try again in 2016.