Breaking news out of the nation’s capital this weekend: the Obama Administration has tapped San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro to run the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
It’s not the job itself.
Historically, few of the nation’s 15 HUD secretaries over the past half-century – the agency was created by congressional act in 1965 – have enjoyed national prominence (you might recall Ronald Reagan’s famous memory lapse). Although, there are exceptions: the late Jack Kemp (HUD Secretary from 1989-93) and George Romney (Mitt’s father, and HUD Secretary from 1969-73). If you can name the outgoing secretary (Shaun Donovan, who’s held the post since Barack Obama took office), or the four chaps who skippered HUD through the Bush 43 Administration, then congratulations: you are a serious political junkie.
In this case, the significance has to do with the next secretary’s upward trajectory.
Castro’s a rising star in Democratic circles, having delivered the keynote address at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. He’s also compelling biographic material: Julian Castro and his identical twin brother, Joaquin (currently representing Texas’ 20thCongressional District), attended Stanford University and Harvard Law School (Classes of 1996 and 2000, respectively), having grown up in San Antonio’s working-class, Mexican-America West Side.
So unlike many a second-term cabinet appointment, this one isn’t about political nepotism, favoritism or giving a member of Congress – retired or removed – a soft landing. If he’s smart and ambitious (which he is), Castro will make the most of his two-plus years at HUD to travel the nation, perhaps offering a nationalized version of his city’s SA2020 community project.
And in doing so, that could make Castro a very hot commodity as far as Democrats trying to figure life after Barack Obama are concerned. If the Democratic presidential nominee in 2016 turns out be Hillary Clinton, Julio Castro may end up in a different capacity before the end of the Obama Administration: Mrs. Clinton’s running mate.
Granted, this is pure speculation, as we don’t know whether there will be a Clinton presidential candidacy in 2016, much less a coronation nomination. But should there be, Castro makes a lot of sense as the second half of the ticket.
For the following reasons:
1) The Texas Landscape. All politics being local, let’s start with Castro’s future in the Lone Star State. Texas will choose a new governor this fall – presumably, Republican State Attorney Greg Abbott (Texas last elected a Democratic governor in 1990). That means waiting until 2018 for a challenge, should it be Abbott. On the U.S. Senate side, John Cornyn should breeze to re-election in November. The most inviting target: Sen. Ted Cruz, who’s not up until 2018. Cruz is controversial; he also got 56% of the vote in 2012, which was not a light-turnout (for Democrats) off-year election. So perhaps the timing’s right for Castro to add to his resume . . . in a non-Texas capacity.
2) Democratic Tendencies. Joe Biden was two weeks shy of his 66th birthday on Election Day 2008. It makes him an oddity, in a party that idolizes youth. Obama was 47 when first elected president. John Edwards was 52 – but didn’t look it – in 2004. 1992’s Clinton-Gore ticket featured a presidential candidate, aged 46, with a 44-year-old running mate. Julian Castro turns 42 in September 2016, which might be the balance Democrats need if the presidential nominee is a soon to-be 69-year-old Hillary Clinton (the dynamic isn’t the same if there’s no Clinton candidates and Democrats turn to Plan B).
3) Generational Appeal. In the 1998, George H.W. Bush’s campaign miscalculated in assuming that a 41-year-old Dan Quayle would appeal to America’s youth vote. In putting Castro on the ticket, Democrats would be making the same gamble. And they’d be looking for one other thing: the transition from the tail end of the Baby Boom (Obama having been born in 1961) to the first Gen-Xer on a national ticket. It’s a demographic that Obama actively courted in 2012 – and Mrs. Clinton might need help with in 2016, given that she’s at the front end of the Baby Boom generation (the 18-year-old who gets to cast their first vote in 2016 wasn’t alive for either of the Clintons’ two presidential wins). Castro himself referred to youth-served in the opening lines of his 2012 convention keynote: “I stand before you tonight as a young American, a proud American, of a generation born as the Cold War receded, shaped by the tragedy of 9/11, connected by the digital revolution . . .”
4) Latinos. The odds that one of the two parties puts a Latino or Latina on their national ticket? On the Republican side, there’s New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval – both of Mexican descent and both heavily favored to be reelected this fall. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, both claim Cuban ancestry; Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador was born in Puerto Rico. On the Democratic side, in addition to the Castro twins: try New Mexico Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a major Obamacare proponent (she used to be New Mexico’s state Health secretary).
Keep an eye on Julian Castro’s movements as HUD Secretary. And should he wind up at an event sometime in the next year with Hillary Clinton – it may be a preview of a bigger attraction coming America’s way in 2016.
Follow Bill Whalen on Twitter: @hooverwhalen`