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Julián Castro On His Struggle To Break Out From Pool Of 2020 Democratic Candidates


Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro was one of the stars of the first Democratic presidential debate. Now we are one week out from the second debate, and the onetime rising star of the Democratic Party is struggling to break out from the clump of candidates polling below 2%. Castro talked about that challenge with the NPR Politics Podcast and New Hampshire Public Radio. As NPR's Scott Detrow reports, Castro also spoke about how Democrats should respond to President Trump's attacks.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Julian Castro expects many more weeks of the 2020 presidential campaign to play out like the past one - it was dominated by divisive presidential tweets, Democratic responses to those tweets, rallies centered around those tweets and so on.


JULIAN CASTRO: His specialty, if you will, in politics is division, trying to just amp up a base. He's the biggest identity politician that we've had over the last 50 years.

DETROW: Castro says the challenge for Democrats is to effectively counterprogram President Trump - to respond to attacks, but to also offer up the party's own vision of the country.


CASTRO: I believe in an America where our leadership actually says, we're better because of our differences.

DETROW: Castro has rolled out an aggressive immigration plan which would decriminalize unauthorized border crossings. Trump calls it open borders, and there's a risk it could turn off more moderate voters. But Castro says, in the end, he's banking on more voters agreeing with him than agreeing with the president.


CASTRO: What he's betting on is that he's going to be able to get every little bit of base support out there and barely, narrowly win another electoral college victory, lose the popular vote again. But I believe that enough people who bought into Donald Trump three years ago in 2016 have buyer's remorse.

DETROW: Castro first came on to the national political scene in 2012 when he delivered the keynote address at the Democratic Convention. He was the young mayor of San Antonio, Texas. Later on, President Obama tapped him to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development. And all along the way, Castro has been accompanied by his identical twin brother, Joaquin, who's now a Texas congressman and the chair of his presidential campaign. Their parallel rise has been very public, but Castro says it took a while to develop a real emotional bond.


CASTRO: It's almost like the closeness is assumed, somehow, because you're moving through the world constantly together - we shared bunk beds for a long time; we went to college together, went to law school together, you know, started practicing law together, went into politics together - that in some ways, there's such a closeness and then, in some ways, a distance.

DETROW: In fact, Castro told NHPR's Lauren Chooljian and me that he doesn't remember even hugging his brother until college.


CASTRO: In fact, right after we won our election for the student senate - like, we tied. And we found out - we got this news that we had tied for first place, and we, like, kind of spontaneously hugged each other. But this wasn't something that we would, you know...

LAUREN CHOOLJIAN: Why do you think that is?

CASTRO: ...Do all the time. I think that men in general have issues with showing emotion and relating to each other that way.

DETROW: In the wake of that first presidential debate, Castro is drawing larger crowds and raising more money. But Castro admits he's still behind and that he needs another big performance next week.


CASTRO: Well, I have the same goal. The goal is to introduce myself to a lot of people who still may not know who I am - because my name ID is still lower than some of the other candidates - and to articulate a strong, positive vision for how all Americans can prosper in the years ahead. I want to connect with voters about what they and their family need.

DETROW: Castro will debate on the second night next week, when former Vice President Joe Biden and California Senator Kamala Harris will be center stage.

Scott Detrow, NPR News, Concord, N.H. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.