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AUSTIN — Former San Antonio mayor and Democratic candidate for the 2020 presidential election Julián Castro said Saturday at the Texas Tribune Festival that he’s determined to make the November debate stage, despite his increasingly long odds of qualifying.
In an hourlong conversation with NBC journalist Katy Tur on Saturday, Castro spoke about the next phase of his presidential campaign, his platform, and an impending impeachment inquiry investigating President Donald Trump’s conduct in conversations with foreign leaders.
Castro has sounded alarm bells in recent funding pleas to supporters, saying not making the November debates would spell the end for his campaign.
When Tur asked if Castro would challenge U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, who Castro predicted would lose his bid for reelection in 2020, should his campaign sputter, Castro ruled that possibility out entirely.
“I am not going to do it and I believe I’m going to make the next round of the debates, too,” he said.
On the impeachment inquiry facing Trump, Castro said the allegations raised in the whistleblower complaint about Trump’s July phone conversation with the Ukrainian president rise to “impeachable conduct.”
“He clearly abused his power,” he said. “When you look at the summary of that phone call transcript, he’s using his authority as President of the United States to pressure a foreign leader, dangling military aid over that foreign leader, and asking for a favor against the political opponent that he may fear the most.”
Castro, who has been polling nationally at about 1 percent, remains on the outside looking in as the November debate approaches. The former U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary must poll at 3 percent in four national polls to qualify.
In January, Castro, a stalwart of San Antonio politics since winning a seat on City Council in 2001 at age 26, announced his longshot bid for the presidency on San Antonio’s Westside. He pitched the crowd of thousands on a liberal platform, endorsing action on climate change, immigration reform, Medicare for all, and criminal justice reform.
Castro has produced strong debate performances this summer that have put him in the media spotlight, but the candidate has failed to convert that attention into fundraising force or support in the polls.
In the most recent debate this month, however, Castro drew strong criticism for his combative nature, particularly in an exchange with former Vice President Joe Biden, whom he accused of forgetting statements Biden made moments earlier in the debate. Critics of Castro’s remarks believed his comments came off as ageist and disrespectful.
Castro has vehemently defended his forcefulness during his debate performances. On Saturday the candidate told the audience gathered inside Austin’s Paramount Theatre that an assertive approach is needed to face up to Trump.
“Trump is not going to be nice,” he said. “The Democratic nominee is going to have to be prepared to go toe to toe with Donald Trump. I hope that people have seen in the last few debates that I can.”
As Biden, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) have pulled ahead in the polls, however, it appears less and less likely Castro will have a chance to spar with Trump on the debate stage.
Castro will participate in the next Democratic candidate debate, which will take place in Westerville, Ohio at Otterbein University on Oct. 15.