Editor’s Note: Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and member of the USA Today board of contributors. Follow him on Twitter @RaulAReyes. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. View more opinions on CNN.
Will slow and steady win the race?
At CNN’s Thursday night town Hall, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro certainly came across as capable, likable, and ready to be commander-in-chief, as the Democrat answered questions on a broad range of topics before a live audience in Washington DC. The question now is whether primary voters will embrace him in his quest to be the nation’s first Latino president.
Castro is in need of a boost in the polls, as he has not yet broken out of the large pack of Democratic hopefuls, nor met the standards for making it onto the main stage for the upcoming Democratic National Committee debates. He recently polled at just 2% among likely Iowa caucus-goers, a new Monmouth University poll shows. And at the town hall, he may not have achieved a “breakout moment,” though he showed viewers and potential voters that he deserves serious consideration.
Castro is the only Democrat running for president with a detailed immigration plan, and he offered pragmatic ideas for revamping our immigration system. He wants to decriminalize unauthorized border crossings, instead treating them as civil offenses; offer a path to citizenship to “Dreamers” and other undocumented immigrants; and institute a Marshall Plan for Central America to help deter potential asylum-seekers.
To his credit, Castro recognizes the reality of migration patterns, as well as the fact that the United States needs workers. “This country has been blessed by immigrants over the years,” he declared. Good for him, for backing up such sentiments with an actual plan and for noting that the Trump administration’s cruelty towards immigrants “never seems to end.”
Interestingly, while Castro presents himself as the antithesis of President Donald Trump on immigration and other issues, he rarely mentioned the name “Trump” throughout the town hall, instead simply referring to “the President” or “this President.” Indeed, it was wise of Castro to avoid Trump-bashing in favor of outlining his own policies and contrasting those with the administration’s. Such restraint, combined with his youth and occasional flashes of a wide smile, brought to mind Barack Obama, who was once also a relative unknown seeking the country’s highest office.
In response to audience questions, Castro gave fairly predictable answers for a progressive Democrat: He supports universal pre-K and “Medicare for All,” favors the Green New Deal, and wants to see the Mueller report released.
However, his answer on the question of reparations for African-Americans whose ancestors were slaves seemed particularly thoughtful. “I believe that we have never fully addressed in this country the original sin of slavery,” he said. “If we compensate people under our Constitution if we take their property, why wouldn’t you compensate people who actually were considered property and sanctioned as property by the state?”
He went on to assert that all Americans have inherited moral assets as well as debts, so the right thing to do is to pay that debt for slavery. How refreshing it was to hear his opinion on this issue; it shows the value of having diverse candidates running for president. It was equally notable that this was a voice outside the African-American community making the case for reparations.
Castro was at his most relatable when he spoke about his family history and his background; like Obama, this is a compelling part of his persona. Castro’s late grandmother came to the United States as a child with nothing, and now one of her grandsons is in Congress (Julián’s twin, Joaquin), while the other is running for president.
Talking about his heritage, Castro showed a spark that he needs to show more of in the future. “To me, it is meaningful to be able to run when the Latino community feels like this President has put a target on their back,” he said. “There might be some Latino boys and girls who look and say, ‘He’s doing that; I can do it, too.” He’s right; win or lose, Castro’s candidacy will inspire the next generation of Hispanic leaders and achievers.
Unmentioned at this town hall: the ongoing crisis in Puerto Rico, US-Cuba relations, and Castro’s views on the Supreme Court. True, no one in the audience brought up these subjects, but a more skilled candidate would have likely found a way to at least touch on them.
Castro has the résumé and skill set to be president – he just needs to develop his personality as a candidate, to sell himself more forcefully and win over voters. As Castro himself noted towards the end of the town hall, referring to his family trajectory, in the United States, “anything is possible.”