Julián Castro drops out of presidential race

Castro was the only Latino candidate in the Democratic primary field.
Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro speaks in Las Vegas on Nov. 17, 2019.
Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro speaks in Las Vegas on Nov. 17, 2019.David Becker / Getty Images file

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By Allan Smith, Maura Barrett and Suzanne Gamboa

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro dropped out of the presidential race Thursday after his campaign, focused on issues of immigration and education, failed to gain traction.

Castro was the only Latino candidate running in the Democratic primary, but the former top Obama administration official never saw his poll numbers take off in the crowded field and was edged off the debate stage in recent months after failing to meet the Democratic National Committee's increasingly tough fundraising and polling thresholds needed to qualify.

Castro, who also spent five years as mayor of San Antonio, shaped his campaign around a policy agenda that was to the left of many of his Democratic counterparts.

"I've determined that it simply isn't our time," Castro said in a video message announcing his departure from the race. "Today, it's with a heavy heart, and profound gratitude, that I will suspend my campaign for president."

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"I’m not done fighting," Castro continued. "I’ll keep working towards a nation where everyone counts, a nation where everyone can get a good job, good health care and a decent place to live."

Castro launched his campaign nearly a year ago, in January 2019, from his hometown of San Antonio on the city’s West Side where he grew up.

He was the first to roll out an immigration plan and led the other Democratic candidates in his call to make illegal border crossings a civil violation instead of a criminal misdemeanor.

On the campaign trail, Castro said his vision was to make the United States the "smartest, healthiest, fairest and most prosperous" country on earth, highlighting plans to overhaul the nation's immigration and gun laws, as well as support working families. Castro got a boost following the first Democratic debate in Miami in June when he challenged his fellow Texan on stage, former Rep. Beto O'Rourke, for not endorsing the proposal to decriminalize border crossings.

Castro also pilloried O’Rourke, who departed the 2020 race in November after failing to build off the momentum generated from his long shot Senate bid in 2018, for his grasp of immigration laws.

But Castro, 45, faced criticism in September after seemingly going after former Vice President Joe Biden's age and memory when trying to make a point about health care policy during the third primary debate in Houston.

"Are you forgetting what you said 2 minutes ago?" Castro asked Biden, making many viewers wonder whether he was questioning the 77-year-old rival's mental acuity. "Are you forgetting already what you said just 2 minutes ago?"

After failing to qualify for the November debate stage, Castro scaled back his New Hampshire staff and his campaign attempted to refocus on the other early primary states of Iowa and Nevada — though he made headlines for criticizing his party's nominating process with the suggestion that more diverse states should be allowed to vote first. Castro also failed to meet the thresholds for December's match-up in Los Angeles, which saw the smallest number of candidates on stage yet.

Castro first gained national attention in 2012 as the first Hispanic to deliver the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. In 2016, he was reportedly on Hillary Clinton’s shortlist as a potential running mate.

Castro's 2020 competitors quickly expressed appreciation and admiration for their rival as he left the race. Biden tweeted that Castro "led his historic campaign with grace and heart and used his platform to lift the voices of others." Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., thanked Castro on Twitter for "being a powerful voice, for proposing bold and progressive plans, and for using your campaign to help people who need it now."

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., thanked Castro for his "tireless efforts to elevate all voices, shed light on the struggles everyday Americans face, and fight for a humane immigration system." And Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, tweeted the country "is better because" Castro "has dedicated his career to lifting communities and expanding opportunities for all of us."