Clinton launches Latino outreach push in Texas

Buoyed by her widely acclaimed performance in the nation’s first Democratic presidential debate this week, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton swept into delegate-rich Texas on Thursday to solidify her Hispanic support, denouncing what she called “prejudice and paranoia” espoused by Donald Trump and other Republican contenders.

During her more three hours in the nation’s seventh largest city, the Democratic frontrunner snared a long-expected formal endorsement from former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and addressed more than 2,000 predominately Hispanic supporters, who greeted her with thunderous cheers and chants of “Hill-a-ry, Hill-a-ry.”

Castro, one of the nation’s Hispanic political stars who now serves as Housing and Urban Development Secretary in the Obama administration, has been touted as a potential Clinton running mate. At a question-and-answer session before the rally, Clinton suggested that she might seriously consider Castro for a spot in her presidential administration but didn’t specify a position.

“I am really going to look hard at him for anything because that’s how good he is,” Clinton said in fielding questions from Javier Palomarez, president and CEO of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, who began the session by noting that many believe Castro would make “a great pick for vice president.” Clinton, who later appeared alongside the former mayor at the rally, said Castro “deserves the accolades he’s receiving.”

Another prominent figure during Clinton’s San Antonio stopover was Castro’s identical twin brother, Congressman Joaquin Castro, who endorsed Clinton months earlier and has been traveling the country raising money and support as a leader in her Hispanic outreach effort. The San Antonio congressman has also been mentioned as a potential running mate, though not to the extent of his more widely known brother.

Though somewhat anti-climactic, Julian Castro’s endorsement, which was disclosed days earlier, was billed as a key ingredient in an appearance designed to build on Clinton’s already formidable stature among Hispanics and showcase her Latino-backed priorities, including a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants currently in the country.

“She has always been here for us and today we are here for her,” Castro said in introducing Clinton to the eagerly receptive crowd.

Poking Trump

During the back-to-back events at the historic Sunset Station in downtown San Antonio, Clinton underscored initiatives, such as equal pay for women and a boost in the minimum wage, that she said would not only help Hispanics but all middle-class Americans. She also vowed to call out Republicans and their “flamboyant frontrunner” — Trump — for “harsh, inflammatory language” that she said is stoking “prejudiced and hurtful” attitudes among the American public.

She specifically referred to Trump’s statements that immigrants from Mexico include rapists and drug smugglers. She also deplored Republican Jeb Bush’s description of U.S-born children of illegal immigrants as “anchor babies,” calling the term offensive and adding — ‘“as if any baby is anything other than precious and perfect.”

Standing behind a podium with the words “estoy contigo” — “I’m with you,” also the title of a song recorded Texas singing sensation Selena — Clinton drew an enthusiastic response when she outlined her plans for immigration reform and vowed to combat the “ugly anti-immigrant rhetoric” of Republicans.

Clinton has unfurled a multipoint immigration agenda that proposes a path to citizenship for law-abiding undocumented immigrants now in the country. She would also protect and expand Obama executive orders — now under legal challenge by Texas and 25 other states — that grant deferred deportation and work permits to millions of young undocumented immigrants, known as DREAMers, and parents.

She has also called for “humane, common sense” enforcement that would phase out private immigrant detention centers and focus resources on catching those who pose a “violent threat” to public safety.

During Tuesday’s debate, Clinton also expressed support for state laws, such as one in Texas, that grant in-state college tuition for undocumented immigrants.

Texas ‘homecoming’

Clinton’s visit, which formally launched her Latino Outreach program in Texas, also had the aura of a homecoming as Clinton and the Castro twins recalled her days as a young Yale law student registering black and Hispanic voters in San Antonio and South Texas during George McGovern’s 1972 presidential campaign.

Clinton described herself back then as a “blonde girl from Chicago” who “didn’t know a word of Spanish” but she said she developed a deep understanding and close friendships from her visits in the homes of struggling “mothers and grandmothers who worked long hours for not very much money.” With her during those early days in Texas was her boyfriend and future husband, who back then, Clinton said, had a “bushy head of hair” and looked like “a Viking.”

“Bill and I fell in love with South Texas,” she said. “We ate a lot of green enchiladas. We drank our share of Shiner Bocks. We ate way too much mango ice cream.”

Those youthful visits marked the start of what would be a lasting and ever-growing connection to Texas and Hispanics that was also nourished by her husband’s presidential campaigns and Hilllary Clinton’s own inaugural presidential run in 2008. She retains a strong base of Texas support left over from the 2008 campaign and has raised in excess of $2 million in Texas for her current presidential race.

Running against future boss Barack Obama in her unsuccessful first run for the Democratic nomination in 2008, Clinton outpolled Obama among Hispanic primary voters by nearly two-to-one, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. In Texas, where Hispanics now constitute more than 37 percent of the population, the Latino vote helped Clinton beat Obama in the Democratic primary, though the future president prevailed among caucus-goers in a bifurcated delegate apportionment arrangement known as the “Texas two-step.”

The caucuses have been eliminated, ending the two-step and leaving only the March 1 primary in the 2016 presidential race. The earlier-than-normal March 1 date gives the state unaccustomed influence in deciding the party’s nominee, particularly since Texas, with 252 delegates, is the linchpin of so-called Super Tuesday contests being held in a dozen states on the same day.

Having a good week

The Texas welcome continued a good week for Clinton, beginning with what has been judged as a flawless debate performance against leading rival Bernie Sanders, a Vermont senator, and three other candidates who are struggling to stay in contention. Sanders gave Clinton an unexpected boost by saying that voters are tired of Clinton’s “damn emails,’ a reference to the nagging controversy over the email server that Clinton maintained as secretary of state.

Although Vice President Joe Biden, who has been considering an entry into the race, remains a wild-card in the Democratic contest, Texas Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said Clinton’s victory in the debate may have effectively shut the door on Biden’s potential candidacy.

“He would have a very difficult time gaining ground at this stage of process,” said Hinojosa, the first Hispanic to hold a party chairmanship in Texas. Hinojosa said Clinton’s Texas appearance on Thursday further boosts her lead among Hispanics in her bid for a second victory in the state’s primary. He called the Castros’ endorsements a “major coup,” describing the two brothers as “the two most popular Democrats in Texas today.”

Both brothers are considered rising Texas stars and have been alternately mentioned as potential Democratic nominees in the next governor’s race in 2018. Julian Castro, as an Obama cabinet member who delivered the keynote address at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, is perhaps the more visible of the two outside of Texas and continues to draw buzz as a vice presidential possibility.

“My brother is enjoying his time at HUD, he’s glad to endorse Secretary Clinton and he’s focused on his work for the administration,” Congressman Castro told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in advance of Thursday’s rally. “There will be many great candidates for V.P. that the nominee will have to choose from.”

The brothers also endorsed Clinton in her race against Obama during the 2008 Texas primary. Joaquin Castro said that Clinton’s support among Hispanics, an increasingly powerful voting bloc, would give Democrats heavy leverage in the general election race against Republicans but he acknowledged that Democrats would still face an uphill battle carrying red-state Texas, which hasn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1976.

“I think with Hillary Clinton as the nominee, I think we could move the needle in Texas,” he said, “but winning the state outright in November of 2016 would still be a high hurdle.”

A statewide poll last month by the Texas Lyceum, a non-partisan Texas leadership organization, showed Clinton with 36 percent among prospective Democratic primary voters, compared to 24 percent for Sanders and 15 percent for Biden. Former Democratic Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia had 2 percent, while former Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley didn’t register.