More than 9,000,000 people have voted in Texas, already surpassing the entirety of the ballots cast in 2016. That had been an all-time record. The turnout is just one sign that this election is different, and Julián Castro is thankful to be home to witness it.
In past campaigns, it would have been assumed that the former Housing and Urban Development secretary would have been dispatched to swing states such as Florida, Pennsylvania, or Wisconsin, where his appeal with Latinx voters and those primarily focused on social-justice issues might help the Democratic ticket. However, as Castro told Rolling Stone this week, “it’s been an 180-degree turn since last year,” when he was a primary rival of Biden’s and incessantly traveling from state to state. He has been able to stay in Texas not merely because of Covid-19 isolation, but because Biden and other Democrats have a real shot of big wins there.
If Biden wins Texas’ 38 Electoral College votes, that would about wrap it up. That’s why eyebrows raised this week when the Cook Political Report changed the rating on the Texas race between President Trump and Biden to from “Lean Republican” to “Toss-Up,” citing the huge surge in the early vote and “statewide and district level polling show[ing] Biden running strong in and around metro suburban parts of the state.” Kamala Harris headed to the Rio Grande Valley for a campaign visit on the Friday before Election Day, which says everything about the campaign’s belief in their own chances at winning the Lone Star State.
Yes, Democrats’ last presidential nominee to win Texas was Jimmy Carter in 1976. And yes, Democrats have been hopeful in recent statewide races — Wendy Davis’ run for governor in 2014, Beto O’Rourke challenging Ted Cruz in 2018 — only to fall short. But 2020 may be different, in part because of spending. Biden’s campaign has much deeper pockets than the president’s and is being more aggressive in Texas. Billionaires Dustin Moskovitz and Michael Bloomberg are funding ads in the state. And even the well-funded down-ballot races may help draw voters to the presidential ticket. Incumbent Republican senator John Cornyn, facing a competitive challenge from Air Force veteran M.J. Hegar, told the New York Times recently that he worries about being “outspent by more than 2-to-1.”
As Castro is a native of San Antonio — and its former mayor — I wanted to get his perspective. We spoke by phone this week.
Why are you able to spend so much time at home right now, campaigning in your home state for Joe Biden? Why does he have such a realistic shot at Texas?
Texas is in play for at least two big reasons. First: the suburbs in Texas are abandoning Donald Trump and the Republicans. We see that in the suburbs of Houston, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio. Then secondly — and these two are related — all of the demographic changes that people have been obsessing over for the better part of two decades are having their impact. The growth of the Latino community, the Asian American community, the African American community here is helping to power the state towards becoming global.
I saw a recent poll that showed Biden trailing in Texas, but analysis done by reporter Julio Ricardo Varela argues that it undercounted Latinos. Do you think those of us with a national perspective have underestimated the strength of Biden’s Latinx support in the state?
Many of those polls are notoriously suspect, because either they don’t include strong enough sample size of Latinos, or they over-rely on landlines, or they don’t use and they don’t get to enough Spanish language-dominant Latinos. So I have every reason to believe that Joe Biden is going to take a good healthy share of a Latino vote.
I see that is already happening, at least nationwide. According to a NALEO Educational Fund tracking poll from earlier this week, Biden is receiving 79% of support from those Latinos who said they already voted, and similar percentages from younger voters, Latinas, and those who are second-generation. And yet, there is some Latinx support for Trump. Why?
There’s no question that the Latinx community is not monolithic, including here in Texas. You have some folks who are very religious, and some were gonna vote Republican because they’re very conservative, generally. You also have some folks who are the target of tremendous disinformation, aimed at trying to suppress their support for Joe Biden, and to suppress their votes.
Whether it’s on Facebook or in conversations, I’ve heard people bring up this QAnon stuff and the idea that Democrats are involved somehow in sinister activity. That’s being aimed in a big way at the Latino community. And I don’t think the goal is necessarily to get a much bigger share of [the vote] as much as it is to suppress the vote, to scramble the notions that people have of who the good guys and the bad guys are. So all of that is at work.
Given those disinformation efforts, what do you tell people in these Latinx communities who have questions about Joe Biden?
I tell them that this is a man of great character, and somebody who actually has the experience and a plan to turn this country around and get us past this pandemic. He has a track record of reaching out to the Latino community and disadvantaged communities generally, and he is ready to champion prosperity for everybody. The problem with Donald Trump is that he’s a president for some people — for people who look like him, or for people that have a wallet that’s big. And we need a president that’s there for every single person in this country.
What did you learn about Joe Biden while running against him that you’re now seeing in a different light now that he’s the nominee? Are you seeing him grow at all as he nears Election Day?
He’s got a lot of grit and determination. There’s no doubt that some people counted him out. And he’s been steady. He’s been determined and hasn’t got off his game. They’ve run a fairly well-disciplined campaign, and that’s good for two reasons. Number one: people want steadiness right now. They want to feel like we can get to some sense of normalcy — not necessarily what we used to have, but an improved path to prosperity. And then secondly, it’s such a great contrast to Donald Trump, who represents chaos and division and a frenetic quality that induces anxiety in a lot of regular people because they don’t know what’s coming next out of the Oval Office.
As you travel throughout Texas, what spots are getting more friendly to Democrats that perhaps weren’t before?
The playing field in Texas has opened up considerably, beginning with the suburbs that Republicans have counted on for decades. Those have suddenly shifted to give an advantage to Democrats. We’re seeing that throughout the state. And then secondly, we see in both the big cities — like Houston and even in places like my hometown of San Antonio, and in places like the Rio Grande Valley, with a huge Hispanic population that is younger, on average, than the mainstream— that presents just a spectacular opportunity to draw out greater support than usual. That is very welcome, and great news for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. So that gives me hope that the equation has changed in our state, and that we can win next Tuesday.
What do you say to national observers who perhaps don’t know Texas as well, and have doubts about this strategy? Why not put more resources into more well-known swing states, such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, or Florida?
Look, I understand. There’s still a lot of shell shock for what happened four years ago. And I agree that we absolutely need to lock down the Midwest. The good news is that the Biden campaign has done a great job.. I saw a poll [Wednesday] that had Biden up by 17 points in Wisconsin. Now, he may not win that state by 17. But they have put a lot more resources in this go round to the Midwest, and I’m confident that he’s going to come out victorious.
The difference this year is not only that he’s paid more attention to the Midwest. It’s that he has many more resources to work with. They have a cash-on-hand advantage of more than $180 billion. That means that you can walk and chew gum at the same time. You can lock down the Midwest and also seize once-in-a-generation opportunities like Texas, Arizona, and Georgia. And if you do convert, you’re dealing with a totally new electoral map that will benefit Democrats for generations.
This is what I see coming out of next Tuesday, potentially. A new electoral map where the South, Southwest and West are right at the center of it. Georgia, Texas, Arizona, added on to California, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico. Together, all of that is more than half of the electoral votes that you need to become president. And if we can, if we can establish this new electoral map, I don’t see Republicans out there — whether they come from the Jeb Bush wing or the Donald Trump wing — who can really compete right now.
You mentioned earlier the growth of Asian American communities in Texas. How might that be a factor in the race?
I think there’s some things that have been under-covered, under-written about — and one is the growing importance of the Asian American communities in Texas. They have been growing very quickly, especially in suburbs, which are trending more towards Joe Biden. Fort Bend County [where Castro campaigned Thursday] is a very good example. It has an Indian-American county judge, basically the county executive — and a growing Asian-American community that has tilted firmly Democratic. And that’s just one example. When you add that growth to that of Latinos and African Americans in Texas, you can see why the future for Republicans in Texas is grim.
What is one thing that might throw a wrench in this demographic ascendance for Democrats, though
Everybody is following the back and forth of voter suppression, but also, the effect of no straight-ticket voting. Republicans, a couple of years ago, their legislative session took away straight ticket voting. This is the first election since. So now, somebody can’t go in there and just hit “Democratic” and you’re voting for all the Democrats at once. You’ve got to go through each race now. And that means people have to go all the way down the ballot if they want to vote at the local races, or even congressional races. It also means that there might be more ticket splitting this time, because you’re not gonna, you’re not gonna have straight ticket voting. What happens because of that? Does that help M.J. Hegar or John Cornyn? What does that do to down ballot races? That’s gonna be fascinating to watch after this is over.
How about those down-ballot races, such as Hegar’s challenge to Cornyn?
Down-ballot races are tremendously important to how the top ticket turns out because I do believe there’s a reverse coattail of sorts. We have so many impressive, exciting down-ballot candidates who are running at the local level or are ready for Congress. People who, through their own campaigns and networks, are turning out a lot of people.
And for the second cycle in a row, Democrats have contested the vast majority of seats out there in local communities and in congressional districts. That’s a change from even half a decade ago. All of that turnout people’s friends, their families, their co-workers, their supporters in in their local communities, who go into the go into the voting booth and are now more likely to vote Democratic because they’re supportive of that local candidate who’s Democratic. We haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of the difference that can make Sixteen or 18 of the congressional seats this year. Every single one. They’re running for school board. They’re running for city council. They’re running for state rep and state senator at unprecedented levels in modern Texas history. That makes a difference. And I actually think that’s going to help power Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to victory.