Julian Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio, Texas, announced he was running for president on Saturday, warming up the race for the Democratic nomination with a call to reverse a “crisis of leadership” in the White House under Donald Trump.
Mr Castro had long been considered a likely candidate, having risen to political prominence with a keynote speech at the Democratic convention in 2012 and served under Barack Obama as secretary of housing and urban development.
In his speech, Mr Castro stressed his immigrants roots — his grandmother moved to the US from Mexico — and slammed Mr Trump’s attempt to build a wall on the southern border, which has triggered a stand-off with Democrats over funding and a partial shutdown of the government.
“There is a crisis today — it’s a crisis of leadership. Donald Trump has failed to uphold the values of our great nation,” Mr Castro said in his speech.
Mr Castro joins Elizabeth Warren, the senator from Massachusetts, as the most prominent figures to throw their hat in the ring, though Tulsi Gabbard, a congresswoman from Hawaii, and John Delaney, a congressman from Maryland, have also said they were running for president. Ms Warren said this month she was launching an “exploratory committee” for a presidential race and has already been campaigning in Iowa, the state where the first nominating contest will be held early in 2020.
Other big names could still enter the race in what is expected to be a very crowded field, with the first televised debates coming in June. Among them are Joe Biden, the former vice-president, Kamala Harris, the senator from California, Beto O’Rourke, the congressman from Texas, and Kirsten Gillibrand, the senator from New York.
Political strategists say early moves to campaign for the nomination could help them raise money and gain momentum and recognition among voters. In his speech on Saturday, Mr Castro said one of his first actions if he wins the White House would be to bring the US back into the Paris Climate accord. “The biggest threat to our prosperity in the 21st century is climate change,” he said to his supporters.
He also stressed the problem of income inequality, which Ms Warren has made the cornerstone of her bid for the Democratic nomination, saying fewer and fewer Americans were benefiting from the economic expansion and that he supported an expansion in government-funded healthcare. In addition, Mr Castro attacked police brutality against African-Americans. “For far too many people of colour, any interaction with the police can become fatal,” he said. “We’re going to keep saying Black Lives Matter”.
But he seemed to place immigration at the heart of his campaign, to capitalise on outrage within the Democratic base at Mr Trump’s border wall plans and his administration’s family separation policies.
“Yeah, we have to have border security,” Mr Castro said. “But there’s a smart, and a humane way to do it. And there is no way in hell that caging children is keeping us safe.”