Democrats in Texas rarely have much to shout about but the return to San Antonio, where he used to be mayor, by US housing secretary Julian Castro as the marquee speaker at their annual state convention has them a fizz thanks to speculation Hillary Clinton may pick him as her running mate.
Two years after leaving San Antonio, the seventh biggest city in the US, to become the youngest member of President Barack Obama’s cabinet, he has steadfastly beaten off questions about his ambitions. “I'm not going to get into that. Number one, I've said for a long time, I don't believe that's going to happen,” he told reporters late last week. “This is a decision that she's going to make and I'm going to be happy to support whatever the ticket is.”
The gossip, however, refuses to go away. Mr Castro, whose identical twin brother, Joaquin, is a member of the US Congress, could appeal to Ms Clinton by virtue principally of his heritage. With a grandmother from Mexico, he stands as one of the highest-profile Hispanic political figures in the country. Never mind that his Spanish is actually pretty lousy.
There was some added piquancy to his appearance at the convention’s opening session on Friday, because of a coincidental visit to San Antonio at that same moment by the Republican presumptive nominee, Donald Trump, for a fund-raising event, following earlier stops in Dallas and Houston.
It did not go unnoticed that a statement from Mr Castro on Thursday denouncing Mr Trump’s record with the Latino community did not come directly from his office but rather was circulated to reporters by the Clinton campaign, signalling some already established mutual cosiness.
“Donald Trump's message to the Latino community is clear: You are not American,” Mr Castro wrote while also taking the property tycoon to task for his stance on LGBT issues. “In Trump's America, Latinos wouldn't be welcome, our LGBT brothers and sisters wouldn't be able to marry who they love, and Americans would be discriminated against because of their religion,” he added.
“In a time where the Latino community is under attack, we need a leader who will be a partner, not someone who treats Latinos like second class citizens. We need a leader who will break down barriers for us, not build a wall. We need a leader who will strive for inclusion, not division,” he said, leaving no doubt at all that he was referring to the former first lady.
With Ms Clinton unlikely to reveal her running mate before the Democratic Convention next month, several others names are in the ether. They include Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper as well as senators Tim Kaine of Virginia and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Another Latino who could help her is US labour secretary Thomas Perez
Elected to his first term as San Antonio mayor in 2009 at just 34 years of age – he was younger than any mayor of a major US city – Mr Castro, who is Harvard-educated, made a national splash with a keynote speech at the party national convention four years ago. Mr Obama made similar use of a speaking slot at the 2004 convention to make his name.
If Texan Democrats are getting ahead of themselves with their faith in Mr Castro they might be forgiven. They have not been able to elect one of their own to statewide office in Texas for more than twenty years. It remains a Republican bastion in spite of a recent influx of Latinos as well settlers from other states, notably California, with more progressive traditions.
Finding an Hispanic to be her running mate would have been urgent for Ms Clinton if her likely Republican opponent was threatening to make inroads into the Latino base of support that usually goes to the Democratic Party. But that is hardly the case with Mr Trump, whose entire campaign was kicked off by an effusion of slurs against Mexicans in particular.
So provocative has Mr Trump’s rhetoric been thus far, it seems likely his mere presence in the race will spur Hispanics to come out in unusually high numbers to vote against him. “If you read the national press the urgency of a Hispanic on the ticket seems to be diminishing,” Garry Mauro, who is Ms Clinton's state director in Texas, told Reuters this week.
For that reason, it is possible that Mr Castro might be slipping down her list of preferences. Moreover if you believe the orthodoxy that it helps a presidential nominee to select a running mate from a battleground state, that would also count against him. Ms Clinton winning Texas in any circumstances is as likely as Mr Obama joining the board of the National Rifle Association.
Nor is Mr Castro viewed especially warmly by the progressive left who have thus far been backing Bernie Sanders for the Party’s nomination and must now be persuaded to embrace Ms Clinton. In April, a coalition of progressive action groups issued a statement condemning Mr Castro for allowing his department to sell delinquent mortgages to Wall Street banks.
The record attracted a written rebuke of Mr Castro from Democrat Raúl Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat who serves as co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
“Your own Distressed Asset Stabilisation Program, which was designed to help right the wrongs of the meltdown years, has been selling homes that once belonged to the families I’ve spoken with at rock-bottom prices to the Wall Street entities that created this situation in the first place,” he said.
At his own press conference in San Antonio on Friday, Joaquin Castro, came to his brother's defence saying the attacks had been partially politically motivated. “I do believe that in some quarters there were politics involved,” Castro said. “I give credit to a couple of the groups for bringing that issue up that they have brought up before. But I think that there's a way for folks to work together in a positive direction.”
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