Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro was a welcome last-minute addition to the UnidosUS 2019 Vision 2020 Luncheon on Monday afternoon, greeted by raucous applause as he walked on stage at the San Diego Convention Center. (“We’re proud to have a Latino running for president,” said UnidosUS President Janet Murguía, in case it was unclear.) Castro joined Senators Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, and former Vice President Joe Biden for this signature bit of UnidosUS programming.
None of the candidates were on stage at the same time, as this luncheon was not a debate. However, it was substantially similar in that most of the candidates did not delve into the nitty-gritty of policy, sticking mostly to familiar bullet points tailored to the interests and concerns of the UnidosUS audience. To be fair, their time on stage was limited, so Castro took the afternoon to hold an intimate press conference with the media — he was the only one to do so — something that underscored his commitment to the Latinx community. “I’m not taking the Latino community for granted,” said Castro at the press conference. “Just because I’m Latino doesn’t mean that I’m going to necessarily get the support of a majority of Latinos out there.”
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His unentitled perspective is both a matter of respect and pragmatism. Consider this: A recent nationally representative UnidosUS poll determined that 16 percent of eligible Latino voters are actually happy with the current administration, while another 21 percent would consider supporting a Republican who addressed their top concerns as constituents. That’s over two-thirds of eligible Latino voters — approximately 16 million people — who aren’t necessarily voting for a Democrat in the next presidential election, let alone voting for Castro. According to the same UnidosUS poll from June, the top three issues for Latino voters are jobs, health, and immigration — specifically, job insecurity, the cost of healthcare, and family separation.
While it’s true that he received the most enthusiastic greeting from the crowd upon his arrival, it is also true that each candidate earned a standing ovation upon completing their brief on-stage Q&As with Murguía; Senator Harris had nearly the entire room on its feet by ending on her announcement that she would take executive action to extend DACA protections to the parents of DREAMers if elected to office. “You take care of those children by understanding that they exist in the context of the parents who raised them and loved them,” she said.
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By the way, it’s not a foregone conclusion that immigration would be at the top of the list of priorities; up until five years ago or so, it really wasn’t a defining issue for most of the voting public. Clarissa Martinez de Castro, Deputy VP of the UnidosUS Office of Research, Advocacy, and Legislation, added some context to the data in a session with the press on Monday morning. “Latinos are not a monolith,” she emphasized, “but it also seems that every time stories reflect that, it’s actually to put forth that Latinos don’t have any particular set of issues that they agree on and therefore there is no such thing as a Latino electorate.” This is a conclusion she refuted by pointing out the “incredible level of affinity” that Latinos have over what traits they look for in a presidential candidate (not divisive, willing to compromise, has achievable goals), as well as the issues pertaining to jobs, healthcare, and immigration. This reflects, perhaps, a shared sense of purpose and urgency that binds the Latinx community together.