Add it all up and it seems inevitable: a Latino President within the next decade. A rapidly growing Latino population, the rise of superstar Latino leaders, and the path forged by Barack Obama all make it seem like it’s just around the corner. And lately at the turn of every political corner I see the smiling, handsome face of San Antonio mayor Julian Castro. He’s got it, but more importantly he gets to show his stuff at the Democratic National Convention. Simple addition and a prime-time convention spot make a Castro presidency seem natural, but the larger equation is complex and does not bode well for the young San Antonio mayor.
A lot of it is luck, or rather bad luck. Castro’s a Democrat from the wrong state—Texas. It’s been 14 years since a Democrat has gotten elected to a state level office, and in 2010 the Republican majority in the legislature became a super majority. In other words, Castro can’t build his political muscle by moving up to a statewide office. And he can’t stay in political shape by staying on as mayor. He’s term limited and quite literally has nowhere to go as far as an elected office.
Beyond the institutional constraints Castro faces, he has never been battle-tested in a non-homogenous electoral context. The Mexican-American Democrat handily won re-election and is well regarded by his constituents. But then again, the majority of San Antonions are Mexican-American Democrats.
At the national level, the math gets a little more challenging for a Julian Castro candidacy. A majority of Latinos are Democrats, but anywhere from 20-40 percent of Latinos will not automatically vote for a Democrat. That would put Castro in the 70 percent range of Latino support. Compare that to the solid base of support President Obama received from the African-American community, at 98%. And even more important than the amount of Latino support would be turnout. Regrettably, Latino turnout lags behind that of other groups, and far behind the community’s actual size. A Castro candidacy would not be able to count on automatic partisan allegiance or high voter turnout as other candidates could.
The challenges Castro faces are serious, but not insurmountable. There is a path to a Castro presidency and it’s based on three actions:
1.) Get a job
in the private sector or build a business. I’m not talking Bain capital here, but he needs to demonstrate experience in the real world. The last, last, last thing he should do is go to Washington and work in government or a think tank. Americans don’t think too highly of Washington, so stay in Texas and beef up your business cred to bolster your proven political talent.
to the center. Castro must create a fresh centrist Democrat profile, much like Bill Clinton did. It is tempting to hunker down on one’s partisan haunches these days, especially when you’re a Democratic in Texas. But don’t; instead learn to speak other political languages. Seek out bridges not because it’s a kumbaya thing to do, but because you have no other choice, given the political and institutional constraints you find yourself in.
3.) Bring it
to Charlotte. It’s almost too obvious to mention, but he’s got to give the best darn speech of his life at the Democratic National Convention.
In the end, the biggest obstacle Castro will face will be Latinos themselves — superstars from the other side of the aisle. There has been a starburst of high-level Republican Latino leaders—Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Susana Martinez, Brian Sandoval. And these leaders have not only all of Castro’s political savvy, but a more visible national platform and a proven ability to win non-Latino votes. A Latino president in my lifetime is a certainty, but there is no telling from what party he or she will be. And perhaps in my children’s lifetime, if not mine, we may see a Latino Republican and Latino Democrat going head to head for the highest office in the land.
Dr. Victoria M. DeFrancesco Soto is an NBC Latino contributor, Senior Analyst for Latino Decisions and Fellow at the Center for Politics and Governance at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, at Austin.