The view from San Antonio of the race for the second position on the Democratic presidential ticket might be unduly influenced by our familiarity with the city’s former mayor and now Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro.
Youthful, Latino, handsome, articulate and boasting a squeaky clean character and record, Castro seems right out of central casting. His decision to resign in the middle of his third term as mayor at a moment when the city was soaring suggested his departure for Washington D.C. was for more than a two-year stint in a domestic Cabinet post.
Is he the leading candidate to become Hillary Clinton’s pick for vice president? An unsourced Friday front page story in the New York Times that appeared to reflect the thinking of senior Clinton campaign strategists suggests there are no guarantees for Castro.
The article, headlined Hillary Clinton’s Campaign, Cautious but Confident, Begins Considering Running Mates, named three U.S. senators, two former governors, and another Latino Cabinet member as people on the current list. Castro’s name appears once in the story in the 16th paragraph. His photo, however, was the first of four head shots that appeared together in the article, alongside Sen Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio)
A companion story published online the same day seemed to contradict the first story. Headlined, Who Might Hillary Clinton’s Running Mate Be if She’s the Nominee?, the story is a sequence of thumbnail profiles of each of the leading VP candidates, and in this article, Brown is profiled first, Castro second, and Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine is third. Klobuchar is fourth, and Patrick is fifth. Bringing up the rear are Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez, the highest ranking Latino in Washington that no one outside of the Beltway knows, former Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Each candidate has his or her strengths and weaknesses they would bring to the ticket, and the Times stories suggest the Clinton campaign will start with a list of as many as 20 potential running mates. She wouldn’t be the first nominee in either party to surprise pundits and voters with her final choice.
Castro is a highly attractive candidate, but he can’t deliver his home state of Texas, which remains blood-red. The real battleground will be in seven swing states: Ohio, Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Virginia, and Florida, according to this story at Politico.com. Clinton’s vice presidential candidate will be someone who can help rally undecided voters in those states.
The possibility of a Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) presidential nomination, or the presence of former Florida Sen. Marco Rubio on the ticket in the VP slot could strengthen Castro’s candidacy, especially in the state of Florida.
It would be wrong, however, to consider Castro only for his strengths as a candidate appealing to minorities. Hillary Clinton is not exactly beloved. Even many women who want to celebrate the advent of the first woman president in U.S. history find it hard to get genuinely excited about her, especially compared to the emotional energy that both Bill Clinton and Barak Obama generated as candidates. Castro and his twin brother, U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-San Antonio) do generate that kind of heat on the campaign trail. Hillary could use someone who creates some excitement and can get young people to turn out at the polls.
Why speculate here based on a couple of New York Times stories more than six months before the November election when Clinton has yet to vanquish Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders? The answer is simple: The Times is more than a newspaper and global digital destination for its readers. It’s where U.S. presidents send indirect messages to other world leaders, and it’s where political candidates float trial balloons and use well-timed leaks and background briefings to test the waters of public opinion and the currents within their own parties.
It would not surprise me to learn that some of the names on the so-called vetting list aren’t really on there. They are just said to be on there for show, either to assuage the ego of the individual whose endorsement will be key in the fall, or for other reasons, such as keeping your opponents off-balance and guessing.
The Times occupies a unique and exclusive position in the national conversation, and journalists and many readers know that some articles in the news columns have to be read for what they might communicate between the lines.
So where does that leave Castro? He surely knows better than we do, but from the outside, it appears his ascension to the ticket is far from guaranteed. His value will be measured against those who also might help Hillary into the White House in what could go down as one of the most bizarre presidential contests in history, starting with the Republican primary season and campaign.
Whatever develops for Castro, he is now one of the country’s most prominent and promising Democrats, and I doubt he has spent any time at all looking in the rear-view mirror.
Correction: An earlier version of this article mistakenly identified Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren as Sen. Elizabeth Warner.
Top image: U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro smiles as he endorses Hillary Clinton during a Clinton campaign event on Oct. 15, 2016. Photo by Scott Ball.