CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Certain that he won’t be in next week’s Democratic debate, presidential candidate Julián Castro has doubled down on ensuring his voice and campaign don't fade from the 2020 race.
Castro has been unable to meet the polling criteria to qualify for the Nov. 20 debate in Atlanta. The end of the day Wednesday is the deadline to reach the polling threshold of 3 percent or higher in four approved polls or 5 percent in two early state polls. No polls have Castro at those levels.
Despite that, Castro has been commanding news and social media attention this week by taking outspoken stands on the primary process, releasing new policy proposals and amplifying his proposals on issues he has championed during his campaign.
Although he’s closed down two state offices, he’s signaled his campaign is moving ahead by filing to be on the ballot in Alabama, Arkansas and New Hampshire.
Recently, Castro criticized the Democratic Party practice of holding its first-in-the nation nominating contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, states that are overwhelmingly white.
He's sought to reinforce his image as the candidate who first put out a comprehensive immigration policy platform by accompanying an asylum seeker to his Immigration and Customs Enforcement check-in. Under the Trump administration, ICE has been detaining many people when they go to their required check-ins.
On Wednesday, he released policy proposals addressing Americans with disabilities.
The detailed and sweeping proposal — as his others have been throughout the campaign — more than doubles federal investment in special education to $120 billion and increases funding for school infrastructure that is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Castro is calling for eliminating a law allowing lower wages for people with disabilities as well as increases in accessible and affordable housing, addressing barriers to voting and expanding the Social Security Disability Insurance program.
"We need to do a better job of connecting the dots between poverty and disability, between equity and prosperity, to ensure that everyone can live a barrier-free life," Castro stated in a post on Medium about the plan. "Individuals with disabilities will be taken into account with every policy we implement and we will recognize the inherent value of every person," he stated.
A process "that doesn't make sense?"
Castro was first asked Sunday on MSNBC for his view on the Democratic nominating process that puts Iowa’s caucus, Feb. 3 and New Hampshire’s primary Feb. 11, first among all states. That gives their voters significant say in winnowing the field and deciding which candidates are viable. Nevada is third, Feb. 22 and South Carolina, follows with a Feb. 29 primary. They are the first states with significant populations of people of color.
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“We can’t tell black women, ‘Thank you. Thank you. We need you. You’ve been great at helping us get elected in Alabama, or our historic victories in 2018,’ and then start our nominating process in a place that hardly has any black people at all,” he told reporters Tuesday in Iowa, echoing similar comments made earlier in the week.
In the 2018 midterms, 92 percent of black women voted for the Democratic candidate, according to Pew Research Center.
“And we can’t criticize Republicans justifiably for trying to suppress the votes of the people of color, and then turn around and start a nominating process in a state where they’re hardly any people of color. That just doesn’t make sense,” he said in Iowa.
Elizabeth Warren, asked about the order on Friday, pushed back on the question and said she is “just a player in the game.”
Joe Biden agreed the states aren’t representative, but said the lineup isn’t going to change and he didn’t think it should.
“It’s what it is. It’s a fair process. The people of Iowa are extremely informed as are the people in New Hampshire,” Biden said in an interview with an Iowa news station.
The Democratic Party has become more racially and ethnically diverse, making Latino, black and other voters key to the party's candidates winning elections.
Castro is the only Latino candidate in the race. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, are African American and Andrew Yang and Tulsi Gabbard are Asian/Pacific Islander American.
“I think he’s correct about the lack of representation,” said Stella Rouse, director of the Center for American Politics and Citizenship at the University of Maryland. “I think Castro is the right messenger for that. He’s had a habit of pointing out things other candidates have not.”
Castro has been frustrated by a lack of a large campaign chest to put up television ads to help spread that message and increase his recognition to raise his poll rankings. Several of his rivals who are in Congress have their own personal wealth or have funds from a recent election campaign. In October, Castro warned he may have to shut down if he didn't raise $800,000. He beat that goal and put up a television ad in Iowa.
Although Iowa’s and New Hampshire’s place in the caucus and primary lineup has been raised in the past, it’s not common for candidates to raise the issue.
Steve Phillips, host of the podcast, "Democracy in Color with Steve Phillips," said he doesn’t recall a candidate previously raising the issue of racial bias in the process, at least not as forcefully — he said it's understandable because candidates don’t want to offend the voters in the first states.
But Phillips said the two "winnowing states" are each at least 90 percent white in a country that is 60 percent white and a party that is 53 percent white.
Phillips said that while it's true that Barack Obama won Iowa and his campaign took off “one could argue that Iowa is a gauge of what whites want, but in terms of the issues most salient to communities of color — racial wealth gap, criminal justice reform, immigration — those concerns are structurally deprioritized by Iowa and New Hampshire kicking things off.”
Rouse said it's worthwhile for Castro to remain in the race even though he faces an uphill climb to Iowa because he is keeping important issues such as immigration in the spotlight and on the Democratic agenda.
Castro was the first to address immigration in a detailed policy proposal and to call for making crossing the border without legal permission a civil violation rather than a Class A misdemeanor crime. Other candidates have since embraced his proposals.
On Tuesday, Castro accompanied asylum seeker José Robinson Palacios to his check-in with ICE after riding a school bus from Iowa City to Cedar Rapids with about 25 members of the Catholic Worker House and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement.
According to David Goodner, cofounder of Iowa City Catholic Worker House, Palacios was forced at 16 to serve as a soldier in a paramilitary narco-trafficking organization in Honduras. Now married to a U.S. citizen and a father, Palacios is appealing the rejection of his asylum request and of his request that his order of removal or deportation be withdrawn.
At the meeting, which Castro was allowed to attend, ICE officers removed Palacios’ ankle bracelet used to monitor his whereabouts after Palacios told ICE officers the monitor goes off randomly and is uncomfortable. Goodner said its removal was a surprise.
When Palacios left the ICE offices, he was greeted with cheers.
“I hope you can carry the love and the spirit and the prayers of the community always,” Castro told Palacios and the group. “Throughout our nation’s history … immigrants both documented and undocumented have added immeasurably to the progress of this nation.”
Suzanne Gamboa reported from Austin, Texas and Maura Barrett reported from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
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