Julián Castro takes momentum to La Gran Plaza. Here’s how he plans to win Texas in 2020

Presidential candidate Julián Castro visits Fort Worth to answer community questions

Presidential candidate Julián Castro answered questions in a town hall at La Gran Plaza in Fort Worth. Immigration and police brutality were among the questions he addressed to the crowd.
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Presidential candidate Julián Castro answered questions in a town hall at La Gran Plaza in Fort Worth. Immigration and police brutality were among the questions he addressed to the crowd.

Julián Castro, the only major Latino Democrat running for president, hit hard on his roots as he campaigned in Fort Worth on Monday night.

Greeting a roaring audience, he related the story of his grandmother, Victoria, who came to Texas as an immigrant from Mexico in 1922 when she was 7 years old.

Two generations later, the former San Antonio mayor and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Barack Obama now is asking Americans to elect him president. His brother, Joaquin, is a San Antonio congressman.

Castro called his family’s journey an “amazing” tale of immigrant success.

“That is the greatness of our country,” he said.

The story seemed tailored for his audience — more than 350 gathered Monday at La Gran Plaza de Fort Worth.

Once near the bottom of the two dozen candidates vying for the Democratic ticket, Castro has pulled ahead of many after a breakout debate performance last week. During the televised debate on Wednesday, he attacked fellow Texan, former Congressman Beto O’Rourke, particularly on immigration policy, and appeared assured on stage.

Castro maintained confidence during his Fort Worth stop, saying he could win Texas for Democrats in 2020.

“I don’t want to make America anything again,” Castro said, referencing Donald Trump’s campaign slogan of ‘Make America Great Again.’ “I don’t want to go backward.”

He is the first candidate to participate in the Road to 2020 speaker series, sponsored by United Fort Worth. The grassroots coalition has invited presidential candidates to speak in Fort Worth in an effort to engage those the group feels have been marginalized in recent elections — Latinx, black and young adult voters.

Other groups joining in the series include ICE Out of Tarrant County, CommUnity Frontline, Planned Parenthood, Democratic Socialists of America Fort Worth, NAACP Arlington TX and the Tarrant County Central Labor Council AFL-CIO.

Representatives from each had the opportunity to ask Castro a single question during the roughly 40-minute Q&A. Castro greeted the crowd briefly in Spanish before fielding questions in both languages, many on immigration.

Castro’s immigration plan is among the boldest and most progressive, calling for the the repeal of part of the federal law to decriminalize border crossings and ending a policy that allows immigration officers to police up to 100 miles into the United States.

The crowd erupted in cheers when he said he would end a policy allowing local law enforcement agencies to partner with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in enforcing immigration laws. The contract, known as 287(g), has been controversial in Tarrant County.

He also wants to expand visa and refugee programs while increasing American investment in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala in what he has called a “21st Century Marshall Plan.”

“We can both treat undocumented immigrants and those seeking asylum like human beings with compassion and ensure we’re a nation of laws,” he said. “Those two things can exist in this country.”

As the former San Antonio mayor, he said he understood the importance of trust in law enforcement, including ICE. He called for criminal justice reforms including a database of fired officers and stringent use of force rules.

“How many videos do we have to watch today to see that too often times if you’re a young black man in this country, you’re treated differently,” he said.

He spoke the briefest on the issue of family planning, answering a question about whether he would restore and protect funding for Planned Parenthood clinics, and similar services, by saying he supported abortion.

“I believe in reproductive justice,” he said. “I don’t believe the federal government should tell a woman what to do with her body.”

This is Castro’s second stop in Fort Worth since he visited on the local election day in May. Other candidates who have visited Tarrant County include Beto O’Rourke, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and John Hickenlooper.

Some have seen Tarrant County as a bellwether indicating any political shift in Texas. The percentage of Tarrant voters backing Republicans in presidential elections mirrored statewide results in 2008, 2012 and 2016. Local voters, however, backed O’Rourke over Ted Cruz in the 2018 senate race.

Just six of the the 20 candidates who appeared in the first round of debates appear sure to qualify for debates scheduled for September and October. The Democratic National Committee requires participants to hit at least 2% in multiple polls and 130,000 individual donors. Failing to make the cut for the fall debates would be deadly for any campaign.

Castro’s campaign kicked requests for donations into high gear following his strong debate performance, blasting social media and selling T-shirts featuring “Adios Trump.”

Castro was not on Jacskboro native Emma Niewald’s radar, but his debate showing propelled him into a top five choice for her, she said.

Niewald thought Castro was weakest on healthcare, one of her biggest concerns. He said he supported Medicare as a “default” health plan for all, but also appeared to support supplemental private insurance.

“He really seized the moment,” she said of Castro’s energy.

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Luke Ranker covers the intersection of people and government focused on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. He came to Texas from the plains of Kansas, where he wrote about a lot, including government, crime and courts in Topeka. He survived a single winter in Pennsylvania as a breaking news reporter. He can be reached at 817-390-7747 or lranker@star-telegram.com.
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