“I wouldn’t put myself in the same league as President Obama, he is a person of unique talents and abilities, I am content being the mayor of San Antonio right now,” Julián Castro insists.
But it is the “right now” that turns heads. The 38-year-old Hispanic mayor of Texas’ second largest city, the seventh largest in the United States, became the latest ‘next Obama’ after he was handed the coveted keynote speaker slot at this year’s Democratic Convention – the president’s 2004 launchpad to the White House.
The similarities between Obama and Castro extend beyond the pair having superficially politically inconvenient names. Like Obama, Castro is the son of a single mother who attended Harvard Law School and emerged as a leader of his community. And like the president, Castro has sought to root his politics in more than his ethnicity. The San Antonio native has admitted he “doesn’t really speak Spanish”.
Speaking to The Huffington Post UK on the eve of a whistle-stop trip to London which included a speech to the LSE last night and meetings with foreign secretary William Hague and Commons Speaker, John Bercow, Castro admits the speech did a lot of good for his profile. He notes calmly, rather than with nerves, that “more people are watching now”.
“It was quite thrilling and quite nerve-wracking,” he says, recalling walking out on stage to face the Tampa convention hall. “I was excited about doing it, but I was happy when it was over. It was quite a unique experience and meaningful or me because my family was there, because my brother introduced me. I enjoyed it a lot and will take away very good memories of it.”
Perhaps surprisingly given the profile of the speech, Castro says Obama did not talk to him before, or offer advice. “I did of course work with the campaign team on it. He called me after and thanked me for playing a part.”
Castro says he finds the comparisons with the president “flattering” if misplaced. However he is relaxed about fuelling talk about his future.
“I’ll look around at what’s possible after I’ve been mayor. It just depends on what is happening at that time in Texas,” he says. Many take that as a nod towards a potential fight with battle with the Latino nephew of George .W Bush, George P. Bush for the governor’s mansion in Austin, a US senate seat or, why not, the presidency.
Castro’s twin brother Joaquin was elected to congress on the same day Obama won reelection. Is there a rivalry between the two? “We used to be competitive when we were younger,” Castro admits. “Now I just cheer his success, I am very happy for him.”
“I have always been alongside my brother my entire life. We went to college together, law school together, we have been in politics together for ten years. It’s not new in that sense. I believe he is going to be an excellent representative in Washington.”
Unlikely to expose any competitive Miliband-brother style tension even if it did exist, his praise for his brother is expected and no doubt genuine. But Castro is curiously reticent to criticize Marco Rubio, the Cuban-American Republican senator from Florida and a likely future rival in the battle for Hispanic votes.
“I think he is bright, he has a great future," he says of Rubio. "I wish him well. I’ve never met him. But I’ve been impressed with him, it’s hard to say.”
First elected mayor in 2009 and winning reelection in 2011 with a handy 82% of the vote, Castro is set to be a key part of the Democrats' strategy to keep hold of the growing Latino vote just as Rubio, a likely 2016 presidential candidate, will spearhead attempts by the GOP to grab some of it back.
Obama won a staggering 70% of the Latino vote in 2012. And demographic trends will see the number of Latinos who are eligible to vote double from 23.7 million today to about 40 million by 2032. This is part of the reason why Castro sees red Texas turning purple or even blue in just “six or eight” years.
He also puts the change down to an influx of people from outside the state who are “moderating” Texas politics at the same time that the Republican Party has “gone off the rails” in its policies on education and immigration.
“Mitt Romney ran the worst campaign vis-à-vis Latinos that any presidential campaign has run in recent memory,” he adds.
Americans, Castro says's are “looking for an honest broker for the middle classes" and that this is what Obama had done. "That’s what the campaign was about, that is the theme he stuck to."
“They are looking for folks to compromise and get things done. I am convinced after four years of Republican obstructivism the American people got it. They understood that the Republicans have been obstructionist far beyond any tradition.”
Castro is in London to promote his city. "We’re going to continue to expand our economic development efforts in San Antonio and put the city on the map, this trip to the UK is part of that my vision.
"I see the wheels turning in the right direction," he says of his city's growth. But he could just as easily be addressing his ambitions. “I’ll be in San Antonio, for a few more years.”
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