Julián Castro welcomed home-state colleague Beto O’Rourke into the crowded Democratic presidential primary field Thursday by releasing a list of more than two dozen elected and appointed Texas officials endorsing the former San Antonio mayor over the ex-El Paso congressman.
The attempted show of force on O’Rourke’s launch day, however, may have fallen a little flat.
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The timing of Castro’s brushback pitch was viewed by some Democrats as unsportsmanlike. To make matters worse, some of the endorsers were surprised to learn that their names would be released on the day a fellow Texan announced his candidacy. And at least one official on the list said he was actually neutral in the 2020 race.
“That list is not ready for primetime,” said Colin Strother, a Texas Democratic strategist who once advised Castro, asserting that it was a “petty” move by an ordinarily classy candidate. “I think [the timing] was in poor taste, and I think it sets it up as though they want this to be some kind of contest between him and Beto and who’s stronger in Texas and, you know, one person put out a list with 33 names on it and the other person came within 3 points of unseating Ted Cruz.”
“If it was an effort to rain on Beto’s parade,” he said, “it was ill conceived.”
Several officials among the 30 listed said they were given no heads up that the campaign would release their endorsements on the same day O’Rourke would launch his White House bid.
“I didn’t know that. I don’t know necessarily that I’d say it caught me off guard,” state Rep. Terry Meza said. “It’s just interesting timing, isn’t it? But that may be part of his strategy. It wasn’t any part of my strategy in endorsing him.”
’Meza added that she’s also supportive of O’Rourke’s candidacy and noted that she had endorsed Castro when she was hopeful the former congressman would challenge Republican John Cornyn for his Senate seat in 2020.
“It’s not an anti-Beto thing,” Meza said. “It’s a pro-Julián endorsement.”
O’Rourke’s campaign declined to comment for this story.
The Castro campaign insisted the timing of the endorsement release was merely coincidental. It maintained that officials on the list weren’t given advance notice because it wasn’t finalized until late Wednesday, andthey shouldn’t have been surprised since they knew its release was imminent.
“The notion that we were just keeping this in our back pocket for weeks waiting for Beto to announce is just not true,” a Castro spokesperson said. “It wasn’t supposed to coincide exactly with Beto’s announcement, but it did.”
Castro’s endorsement list was weeks in the making. The former Obama-era Housing and Urban Development secretary held a breakfast last month with state and local Democratic officials at the Austin Club in Austin, Texas, where he discussed his candidacy and asked Democrats for their support, according to a state lawmaker who was present.
State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., who was surprised the list of endorsements was rolled out on O’Rourke’s announcement day, said he was approached about supporting Castro by state Rep. Richard Peña Raymond last week.
“I was asked to consider him, and I said, ‘Yeah, I certainly want a Texas candidate,’ and he was the only one that had announced at the time and so I offered my name,” said Lucio, who told POLITICO he will remain neutral in the Democratic primary.
Compared to other presidential contenders who have rolled out lengthy endorsement lists, Castro’s roster was a little thin. While Sen. Cory Booker recently announced endorsements from virtually every powerful Democratic elected official and leader in New Jersey — and Sen. Kamala Harris revealed support from Gov. Gavin Newsom and a broad roster of statewide officials and state legislators — Castro’s list was fairly modest in size and scope for such a big state.
“The fact is that list should be three or four times that long,” Strother said of Castro’s endorsements. “There should be mayors and county judges and sheriffs and Democratic county chairs from all over the state. There should be a few hundred people on that list. He’s been in effect the only Texan in the race for four months.”
“It’s a pretty weak list: 33-some-odd Texans, most of whom no one has ever heard of outside their little area of town or the state,” he said. “Not sure how that really exudes strength.”
For its part, the Castro campaign signaled that Thursday’s list was merely the first wave of prominent supporters it will reveal.
“We were definitely trying to get the notion out there that he has support across the state and that he is locking down a lot of that support now,” a spokesperson said. “But this is only the first tranche of endorsements we’ll get from Texas. There’s definitely gonna be more in the coming weeks.”