Julián Castro warns in fundraising plea that missing the November debate will end his campaign

Castro has qualified for the October debate, but he's appealing for funding to "make the next cut."
Image: Julian Castro
Julián Castro speaks at an LGBTQ presidential forum at Coe Colleges Sinclair Auditorium on Sept. 20, 2019, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.Scott Olson / Getty Images

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By Suzanne Gamboa

Presidential candidate Julián Castro said in a fundraising plea that if he does not make the November debate stage, his campaign would end.

“I don’t say this lightly: If I don’t make the next debate stage, it will be the end of my campaign,” Castro, the only Latino presidential candidate in the Democratic primary field, said in an email.

Castro’s email solicitation says he needs 500 gifts of $5, which would be $2,500 to help him pay for “emergency ads” to spread his message.

“The new rules say I need to stand out in 4 major polls to make the next cut,” Castro says in his fundraising appeal. “It could cost me millions to run the ads it’ll take to spread my message and hit those polls. I’m counting on your immediate $5 more than I have ever in my entire life.”

Castro has qualified for next month’s two nights of debate, Oct. 15 and 16, in Westerville, Ohio.

But the Democratic National Committee raised the qualifications for the November debate, including earning 2 percent support in four DNC-approved polls. Castro has not met the polling criteria, averaging 1.3 percent in polls so far, according to RealClear Politics.

Asked whether Castro would actually leave the race if he does not qualify for the November debate, his spokesman, Sawyer Hackett, told NBC News, “We’ll continue to assess.”

"Secretary Castro has said from the start of this campaign that making the debate stage is critical to his success," Hackett said. "We are confident he will make it, and are counting on the support of grassroots donors to get us there."

An appeal for funds

Castro’s appeal echoes a warning from the campaign manager of Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., who said in a memo to staff last week, that he had to raise $2 million by Sept. 30 or there would be no “legitimate long-term path forward” for Booker.

The fourth quarter of fundraising ends Sept. 30 and candidates often make desperate-sounding appeals to push up fundraising numbers.

Castro, the former Housing and Urban Development secretary under President Barack Obama and former San Antonio mayor, has struggled to raise polling numbers beyond single digits throughout his campaign.

He saw a spike in fundraising after the first debates in June when he challenged fellow Texan Beto O’Rourke on immigration policy. The campaign expects to finish this quarter having done better than the previous quarter.

But Castro’s rising popularity took a hit after the most recent debates Sept. 12 in Houston after a clash with former Vice President Joe Biden on health care.

Castro’s questioning of whether Biden forgot details of his own health care plan was criticized by other candidates, pundits and on Twitter as an attack on Biden’s age. Some potential supporters, however, thought Castro showed a tough side that would be needed to take on President Donald Trump in the general election.

Castro’s campaign said it saw its best fundraising for the month in the 24 hours after the clash with Biden.

Castro has used his underdog status as a theme in his campaign, repeatedly saying he's not accustomed to being a front-runner and has had to claw through that to achieve his success.

In his fundraising plea, he harks back to that theme, saying the new qualifying criteria for the next debate is designed for wealthy candidates “with unlimited funds to blanket the airwaves with their message.”

“But I wasn’t born into privilege like other candidates,” Castro says in the email. “I don’t have billions in personal wealth to fill my budget gaps.”

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