By: Denise Padín Collazo

Julián Castro is the second Latino Democrat to ever run for President. He is the former Mayor of San Antonio and Secretary of the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under President Obama. He’s a second generation Mexican-American who was raised by his mother, Chicana activist Rosie Castro. This week Secretary Castro will make his national debut on the debate stage. 

Unless the Latino community leans in to support Castro, most Latino voters may never get the chance to check the box next to his name. 

In a recent poll by Univisión, Castro, a relative newcomer to the national scene, ranked 3rd in vote choice among registered Latino voters, and he has the highest favorability ratio among Latino Democrats with a 5-to-1 margin favorability. In a crowded field of over 20 contenders, that’s a good start. 

Despite this support among Latino voters, his fundraising appears to be lagging behind that of his competitors. According to the first quarter Federal Election Committee reports, Castro ranked 14th in fundraising. He raised $1.1M in the first quarter as compared to Senator Sanders’ $18M. Vice President Biden had not yet entered the race. 

If Secretary Castro does well in this week’s debates, his next hurdle will be to ramp up his fundraising and make it to the next round of debates in July. To do this, he will need to double his current number of donors and rack up 130,000 unique donors from 20 states. 

The first 4 states to hold their primary elections are Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.  Of these February primary states, only Nevada has a significant Latino voting population. As such, Castro may not fare very well until the states with the heaviest Latino voting populations weigh in. California and Texas hold their primaries on Super Tuesday, March 3, 2020, and Florida voters will cast their ballots on March 17, 2020. When Governor Bill Richardson (the first Latino) ran for President in 2008, voters in the states with the largest Latino populations never even got the chance to vote for him. He dropped out of the race by January, 2008. The key to Castro’s candidacy will be to make it to and through March 17th

I’ve heard some people argue that Castro isn’t yet known to the Latino electorate.

That may be true, but neither were Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum just a few short months ago. In early 2018 when Mayor Andrew Gillum was running for Governor in my home state of Florida, he was polling behind the other Democratic candidates. Many Black clergy and voters I spoke with didn’t even know there was a Black candidate for governor until he won the primary. Three months later he came within an eyelash of winning the governorship of the 3rd largest state in the union. 

In order to see Castro as a contender on the national scene, Latinos will need to take a risk and support him even now, while he’s running from behind. Yet that may be the biggest challenge. As Latinos, many of us came from nothing. As kids, we paid less for school lunch. We wore the cheap version of the cool-kid shoes. We cringed when our parents or grandparents spoke their broken English in public. And we, like everyone, hated to be picked last.   

I think there is something about having a Presidential candidate who is running from way behind that reminds us Latinos of all the times we’ve run from the back of the pack and lost. We’re reluctant to bet on a candidate that might lose. Yet that is exactly why we have a primary; to read the pulse of the voters, put candidates in front of the American people, and discuss substantive policies. 

In the 2008 early primaries, Barack Obama was polling low, even amongst Black voters. But voters in South Carolina eventually took a chance on the young Senator from Illinois. The rest is history. 

Four years ago this month, Donald Trump descended the escalator at Trump Tower to announce his candidacy for President. 

From that day on he has waged a relentless attack on our families. The Latino community is so focused on defeating Donald Trump that we could miss an important moment. 

Wouldn’t it be poetic if Castro ends up as the one who takes him down? 

We have the first serious Latino candidate running for President with arguably the most aggressive and progressive immigration policy, a proactive People’s First policing plan which aims to protect Black and Brown lives, and strong support for women’s health care.   

According to an April, 2019 poll by Latino Decisions, 81% of Latino voters say that they believe that anti-Latino racism is a problem in this country. Latino voters are connecting the dots between Trump’s new policies separating mothers and children, his painting of all immigrants as dangerous, his stepping up of aggressive enforcement tactics including in public places like courthouses and hospitals, and his disrespect of the Puerto Rican people with his woefully insufficient response to Hurricane Maria which led to nearly 3,000 Puerto Rican deaths.    

The only way to know how well Castro’s messages resonate with Latino voters is to get his message out to them. Without candidate Castro this cycle, the chance of having a Latino President moves further and further off into the future.

That’s why Secretary Castro needs to do well in the debate in June AND meet the threshold to make it to the second debate in July. If we want our daughters and sons to see one of us on stage vying for the country’s top job we will need to help get him there. 

Let’s make sure he gets the chance to make a case for himself. Both he and the Latinx community deserve that chance.

Denise Padín Collazo is a social justice leader, has worked on electoral campaigns at the local, state and national level.  She is a mentor to fellow women of color and a family-work integration innovator.  

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