Julián Castro dropped out of the presidential primary on January 2, 2020
Julián Castro dropped out of the presidential primary on January 2, 2020 (Photo: Gage Skidmore, reproduced under Creative Commons license)

The field of Demo­c­ra­t­ic con­tenders for the pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion – once the most diverse in his­to­ry – has lost its only Lati­no candidate.

The end of Julián Castro’s pres­i­den­tial bid is hard­ly a sur­prise. His polling num­bers have bare­ly bumped over 1% for the entire­ty of his cam­paign and he had float­ed the idea of with­draw­ing from the race as far back as Octo­ber, when it became clear that he would no longer be able to qual­i­fy for future debates.

Julián Castro dropped out of the presidential primary on January 2, 2020
Julián Cas­tro’s poll num­bers nev­er rose beyond sin­gle dig­its for his entire cam­paign (Pho­to: Gage Skid­more, repro­duced under Cre­ative Com­mons license)

At the start of the cam­paign, Cas­tro seemed to be a promis­ing can­di­date. As a for­mer may­or of San Anto­nio, TX, and a mem­ber of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s cab­i­net, he has exten­sive exec­u­tive expe­ri­ence both inside and out­side of Wash­ing­ton D.C. Fur­ther­more, his cam­paign plat­form was pro­gres­sive and nuanced, which ought to him dis­tin­guished him from the rest of the field.

This shone through in the first round of debates, when Cas­tro was wide­ly praised for his thor­ough under­stand­ing of immi­gra­tion pol­i­cy, tak­ing Beto O’Rourke to task for not ful­ly sup­port­ing the decrim­i­nal­iza­tion of move­ment across the border.

Through­out the debates, Cas­tro was able to make well-informed and intel­li­gent con­tri­bu­tions that con­trast­ed with some oth­er can­di­dates’ broad-brush or vague approach­es to pol­i­cy. To take just one exam­ple, he was able to simul­ta­ne­ous­ly argue for gun safe­ty and cau­tion that a law enforce­­ment-heavy approach to gun con­trol would prove prob­lem­at­ic for com­mu­ni­ties of color.

As Obama'sHUD Secretary, Castro has experience in the executive branch.
As Oba­ma’s HUD Sec­re­tary, Cas­tro has expe­ri­ence in the exec­u­tive branch (Pho­to: U.S. Dept. of Hous­ing and Urban Development)

Unfor­tu­nate­ly for Cas­tro, health­care has been the defin­ing issue of the 2020 pres­i­den­tial sweep­stakes. Castro’s posi­tion – that the gov­ern­ment should imple­ment Medicare for All but allow pri­vate insur­ance to con­tin­ue to exist – failed to stand out as oth­er can­di­dates took stands either for or against Medicare for All.

Cas­tro actu­al­ly has expe­ri­ence work­ing to improve pub­lic health: as Sec­re­tary of Hous­ing and Urban Devel­op­ment, he imposed a ban on smok­ing in pub­lic hous­ing, and as may­or of San Anto­nio he suc­cess­ful­ly reduced obe­si­ty rates in his city. How­ev­er, he was not able to lever­age this record to his advan­tage and fad­ed into the back­ground as oth­er can­di­dates debat­ed the issue.

Castro’s cam­paign became increas­ing­ly des­per­ate-seem­ing as it became clear that he was not gain­ing trac­tion. Dur­ing his last debate appear­ance, he drew the ire of pun­dits, Demo­c­ra­t­ic estab­lish­ment fig­ures, and many vot­ers when he engaged in a ver­bal spat with Joe Biden, imply­ing that the sev­en­ty-sev­en-year-old Biden was los­ing his mem­o­ry – a not-unrea­­son­able claim, but one that came across as mean-spir­it­ed and made Cas­tro look like he was clutch­ing for relevancy.

Castro’s exit from the race is indica­tive of a wor­ry­ing trend in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic con­test. The field start­ed out as the most diverse in Amer­i­can his­to­ry, but all of the can­di­dates in the top tier are white. Although the three frontrun­ners (Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Eliz­a­beth War­ren) have run very dif­fer­ent cam­paigns and have dif­fer­ing pol­i­cy posi­tions, they all entered the race with sig­nif­i­cant name recog­ni­tion and a base of sup­port stretch­ing across the country.

The only per­son who has been able to break into this top tier in a con­vinc­ing way has been Pete Buttigieg of South Bend.

Buttigieg, a white male can­di­date, seems to be able to ignore legit­i­mate crit­i­cism that he both lacks expe­ri­ence and the abil­i­ty to win elec­tions out­side of his home town, while women and can­di­dates of col­or con­stant­ly face ques­tions con­cern­ing “lik­a­bil­i­ty” and “elec­tabil­i­ty.” By con­trast, California’s Sen­a­tor Kamala Har­ris expe­ri­enced a sig­nif­i­cant rise in sup­port after a strong debate per­for­mance in June, but that sup­port quick­ly slipped away and she dropped out in December.

Mean­while, oth­er white male can­di­dates such as Tom Stey­er (who has no elect­ed expe­ri­ence), John Delaney (who has lit­er­al­ly no sup­port at all) and Michael Bloomberg (a for­mer Repub­li­can may­or) con­tin­ue to seek the nomination.

The cam­paign has reached a point where women and can­di­dates of col­or should be ask­ing seri­ous ques­tions of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic party’s pri­ma­ry process.

It should be dis­turb­ing to any pro­gres­sive inter­est­ed in gen­der and racial equal­i­ty that the top tier of can­di­dates is all white and con­tains only one woman.

What changes could the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty make to bring about a more inclu­sive and equi­table nom­i­nat­ing process? Bet­ter debate qual­i­fi­ca­tion cri­te­ria, for one. Polling and fundrais­ing aren’t the only met­rics by which a cam­paign’s rel­e­vance and cred­i­bil­i­ty should be mea­sured. And, for anoth­er, Iowa and New Hamp­shire should lose their monop­oly as the first two states that get to hold nom­i­nat­ing events. Both states are small and home most­ly to white voters.

The par­ty would be wise to begin work­ing on pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nat­ing reforms for 2024 and 2028 as soon as the 2020 cycle is over.

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