Julian Castro has been called a "Democratic rising star” for so long that it might as well be his unofficial title.
He was elected to San Antonio city council in 2001 at the age of 26, at the time becoming the youngest politician elected to council in San Antonio's history. He became mayor in 2009 and was re-elected in 2011. He moved to the White House in 2014, when President Barack Obama offered him a job as the secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Before he even lifted a finger in his national office, people were speculating that this could lead to a spot on a presidential ticket in 2016.
Now, that speculation has only continued to mount as the Rising Star follows Hillary Clinton along the campaign trail, and as she continues to pick up wins in big states like Texas and Massachusetts, she'll be expected to leak her VP picks soon. She already said in October that she was going to “look really hard” at Castro as her running mate. In fact, the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce was so confident in the prospect of VP Castro that it endorsed him for the job even though it hadn't even endorsed any candidate for president.
Castro deflects whenever someone asks him whether he's got his eye on the gig – although he might as well have winked when he responded "quien sabe?" (translation: "Who knows?") to one Iowa man. He's been deflecting, actually, for years when asked about his national political aspirations. The speculation started when he made the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in 2012. He wooed the crowd with his textbook American Dream story about growing up with his twin brother, U.S. representative Joaquin Castro, on a poor side of San Antonio with a single mother and a Mexican immigrant grandmother, only to graduate from Harvard Law School years later. And the momentum has only grown from there.
But as the prospect of Donald Trump on the November ballot becomes realer, the stakes for who Clinton chooses as her running mate only get higher. Sure, tossing some diversity into a presidential campaign is always a good thing, especially when you're trying to lock down the increasingly important Hispanic vote. And sure, the young-looking, 41-year-old Gen X Castro contrasts nicely with 68-year-old baby boomer Clinton. But as important as those things are for appealing to key demographics, some may be concerned about Castro's track record for executive leadership.
As Robert Stein, a political scientist at Rice University, put it: “He has one of the problems that many of the candidates running in the Republican Party have: a gross inexperience at doing anything.”
For example, being mayor in San Antonio is not like being mayor in Houston. Castro made his mark during his time there by championing universal pre-K education, pushing to revitalize downtown while creating more mixed-income housing, and redeveloping San Antonio's more impoverished East Side to do the same thing. But when it comes to decision-making in San Antonio, the city manager has exponentially more leverage than the mayor, who has more of a part-time job. (Castro made just over $3,000 a year; by contrast, the current city manager makes $425,000.)
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Still, his housing efforts in San Antonio did not go unnoticed by Obama. Since taking office as the HUD secretary, Castro has successfully worked on things like reducing mortgage premiums and fighting veteran homelessness; but as White House staffers told Politico, many plans Castro has carried out were those Obama already had before Castro climbed on board. His tenure in that office may be too short for his footprint to really leave a mark.
That leaves Castro with less than two years in Washington and five in a position where he wasn't exactly commander in chief. Which is why Stein is concerned that Castro's inexperience could end up being a liability for Clinton.
That said, Clinton certainly makes up for what Castro may lack in experience. He doesn't have any scandals blemishing his past. He's got that up-from-the-bootstraps American Dream story that voters dote over. And he's got the appeal to the minority voter base to boot.
All of that could certainly work to garner trust among voters. But another reality for voters to grapple with is that VPs are second in command. Should the unexpected ever happen, could they trust that Castro would be prepared as POTUS?