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SAN ANTONIO — Despite a post-debate pummeling from the media over his comments to rival candidate Joe Biden, Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro was celebrating his 45th birthday and a jump in fundraising.
Castro and his twin brother Rep. Joaquín Castro returned from the rough waters of the Democratic debate to the warm “abrazo” (hug) of hometown supporters who joined them Monday in the annual birthday bash they throw and to which all of San Antonio gets an invite.
Castro has been thrashed since last Thursday’s Democratic debate after he asking Biden if he had forgotten what he'd said, drawing criticism that he was trying to make a point about Biden's age; he's 76.
Though the campaign found itself in a post-debate defense mode on Friday, a campaign spokesman told NBC News on Monday that Castro had the best fundraising of the month in the 24 hours after the onstage clash.
Castro didn’t address the clash when he spoke to his birthday party invitees. But he did discuss getting to the next debate and pushing on to the early primary and caucus states.
“We are looking forward to getting stronger and stronger, to doing well and being a frontrunner by the time I get to Iowa and then New Hampshire,” he said.
The performing arts center crowd that showed up for the birthday bash, which the twins have held since 2002, was light compared to crowds that some candidates are drawing at rallies.
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But Castro had some star power among the supporters at his birthday party.
Actor Tony Plana, who plays Bierto Riera, the late husband of Rita Moreno’s character on “One Day at A Time” and who played Betty’s father in the series “Ugly Betty”, told NBC News he backs Castro.
“This is a time to hear all voices. He is the only Latino out there who has the courage to speak up and who has lived it who has walked it and I think that to me I identify deeply with him because of that,” said Plana, who is an immigrant from Cuba.
Plana, 67, said he thought the Castro-Biden debate clash was “like anything else in the media, it’s overblown and saturated for the sake of drama when there are so many other more substantive issues that should have been highlighted,” like immigration.
The contributions Latinos and immigrants have made to the country have been “suppressed and distorted”, he said.
“He’s our only visual and visible voice," Plana said, "of Latinos and immigrants and exiles," Plana said.
There were varying views on whether Castro went astray with that voice on the debate stage.
A Texas congressman, Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, switched his endorsement of Castro to Biden, saying Democrats need to consolidate behind a candidate who can beat Donald Trump.
Naomi Dunson, 38, whose family owns a business in San Antonio but has been living in Massachusetts, said the debate kerfuffle was a distraction. “I’m used to everything being a spectacle after three years of Donald Trump. I want someone who is serious,” said Dunson, who became a campaign volunteer about a month ago.
Beverly Hurtson, 73, said she didn’t think what Castro said to Biden was too bad “because you should call someone out if they make a mistake or contradict themselves.” But she acknowledged she is a bit worried the comments could hurt his campaign.
Faye Gonzalez, who said she is over 65, was attending her first Castro birthday bash. She said she was still sorting through which candidate would get her support.
Castro “probably” went too far in criticizing Biden during the debate, Gonzalez said. “Being an older person myself, I’m very sensitive to that,” she said. But she said she thought it was unintended.
On the other end of the generational spectrum, 18-year-old Stephanie Escobar said Castro could have been less “aggressive”, but said that “as Latinos, we often don’t get taken seriously and that leads to us acting out.”
Jasmine Rodriguez, 21, a social worker, said she still is figuring out who would get her vote, but thought Castro had a strong recent debate, despite the Biden clash.
“He did a good job by staying by what he stands for,” she said. “I honestly thought it was pretty good on his part.”