Forget the polls. The Democratic field needs Julián Castro

Castro might drop out soon, but the presidential race needs his compassion and intersectional vision

Julian Castro at the J Street National Conference in Washington in October.
Julian Castro at the J Street National Conference in Washington in October.Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press

During a campaign stop in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Julián Castro dropped some unexpected knowledge.

“Iowa and New Hampshire are wonderful states with wonderful people," he said. "But they’re also not reflective of the diversity of our country, and certainly not reflective of the diversity of the Democratic Party.”

Castro, a Democratic presidential contender, was referring to the two states that traditionally kick off the primary season, both of which are overwhelmingly white. Then he chided his own party.

“We can’t say to black women ‘oh thank you, thank you, you are the ones empowering our victories,’ and then turn around and start our nominating contests in the two states that have barely any black people in them."


This is why if Castro soon ends his presidential bid, this election season will be diminished by his absence.

No, the former HUD secretary hasn’t shut down his campaign. But in a September fundraising letter, he wrote, “I don’t say this lightly: If I don’t make the next debate stage, it will be the end of my campaign."

Castro will not be on the debate stage next week in Atlanta. While he hit the required donor threshold, his low polling numbers never budged. He was still lagging behind Tom Steyer’s billions and House Representative and Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s BFF Tulsi Gabbard — both of whom made the debate.

Never a frontrunner, Castro’s campaign for the White House was always a long shot against better known contenders like Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and former vice president Joe Biden. Yet there’s a reason why, even when he was mostly sidelined by moderators in earlier debates, Google searches for his name would surge. Though he was often treated as a bit player, he understood how to make the most of his moments.


In last month’s debate, Castro was the first candidate to talk about the police killing of Atatiana Jefferson. During what was supposed to be a wellness check on Oct. 12, Jefferson was shot to death through a window by a Fort Worth officer. Aaron Dean, who resigned from the force after killing Jefferson, has been charged with murder.

Police violence is also gun violence, and we need to address that,” Castro said, as the audience applauded. Since January when he joined the Democratic presidential field, he made his “People First Policing" plan to eradicate disproportionate levels of police violence in communities of color a cornerstone of his campaign.

Still neither that, nor his comprehensive overhaul of immigration, and policies for farmers, indigenous communities, and domestic workers, ever garnered as much attention as former congressman and fellow Texan Beto O’Rourke standing on coffee shop counters.

Castro never got the fevered media attention that can usher in a new campaign and raise a candidate’s profile just long enough for their policies to gain traction with curious voters. He wasn’t on a Vanity Fair cover, with his photogenic black Labrador, claiming he was “just born to be in” the presidential campaign.

He does not have a social media savvy spouse, and he never had the opportunity to go viral slow jamming the news on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” like fellow Democratic presidential contenders Senator Kamala Harris and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Like several other candidates, he’s an Ivy League grad, and unlike several candidates polling higher, has more political experience.


Yet Castro may be the next to leave the campaign trail.

His departure could boost his Democratic opponents, but it would be a grievous blow to those who heard his compassionate, intersectional policies, and found their concerns taken seriously. I hope he can find a way to stay in the fight. He has delivered unvarnished truths about this nation, eschewed what’s politically fashionable, and has concentrated on substance over style. That may not capture the media zeitgeist, but it should have made him a formidable contender.

Renée Graham can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.