Julián Castro is the first Democrat to officially launch a bid for the 2020 presidential nomination. While others are expected to quickly follow, he’s got a few days’ head start to make his mark on the field.
So, what are Castro’s top campaign issues? Let’s start at the top.
Presidential candidates always have a couple of big issues to talk about during their hundreds of campaign stops, but there’s usually one issue that becomes a signature goal.
During the 2012 campaign, for example, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry highlighted job growth. In 2016, Sen. Ted Cruz said his top priority was eliminating every last word of Obamacare. And then, of course, there was candidate Donald Trump’s rally cry: Make America great again.
Castro is leading with a signature achievement from his time as San Antonio mayor: full-day pre-kindergarten. During his speech Saturday, the pre-K program was not only his first campaign promise, but speakers before him also focused on it.
Soon after he was elected mayor, Castro pushed for a local sales tax increase to pay for the program. Now he wants to push it nationwide.
“Here in San Antonio I made pre-K for SA happen,” Castro said during the speech. “As president, I’ll make pre-K for the USA happen.”
From Obamacare, to the fight to protect Obamacare, to what’s next after President Trump weakened Obamacare – Democrats can’t run for any office without talking about how they’ll improve the country’s health care system. Castro has started his campaign by condemning the influence pharmaceutical and insurance companies have on health care costs.
He’s embracing a position that has become more common among Democrats with presidential ambitions.
“Medicare should be there for everybody in this country,” he said. “It’s time for Medicare for all, universal health care for every single American.”
Now he’s only delivered one speech, but the topic that got the loudest response from the crowd in San Antonio was criminal justice reform.
Castro said too many people of color have negative interactions with police. If law enforcement could arrest the white killer in the deadly shooting at Emanuel AME church in Charleston, S.C., without hurting him, he said, “then don’t tell me that Michael Brown and Tamir Rice and Aiyana Jones and Eric Garner and Jason Pero and Stephon Clark and Sandra Bland shouldn’t still be alive today.”
His supporters cheered louder with each name.
Castro also talked about other criminal justice issues, like changing the nation’s bail system so that low-income Americans aren’t forced to sit in jail for being accused of a crime, while the wealthy can avoid incarceration.
Castro, and all the other candidates who enter the 2020 race, will have to balance campaign messages about what he wants to do in office without always pivoting to what the president is doing wrong.
But on immigration, it's an easy pivot.
President Trump has made securing the border and limiting illegal and legal immigration the keystone of his administration, and Democrats are happy to point this out.
Castro’s immigration plan includes more help for people seeking asylum in the U.S. and a major rewrite of the country's immigration system. And yes – he included some criticism for Trump on Saturday when talking about the president’s immigration solutions.
“There is no way in hell that caging babies is a smart or a good or a right way to do it,” Castro said.
While Castro is known in Texas for being the mayor of San Antonio, he was also the secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Obama. So it’s probably no surprise that he’s pushing an issue he worked on in Washington. He wants to focus on housing affordability, which he says is a crisis across the country.
“But you know what, you hardly ever hear about that in politics,” Castro said during his speech. “That’s going to change. We will invest in housing that’s affordable to the middle class and to the poor.”
It’s common for presidential candidates to make a pledge about what their first action in office will be. For Castro, it’s all about climate change.
He said would immediately sign an executive order to recommit the U.S. to the Paris Climate Accord.
“Don’t let anyone tell you that we have to choose between growing our economy and protecting our planet. We can fight climate change and create great jobs here in America,” Castro said.
Now these aren’t the only six things Castro will talk about when stopping at diners and coffee shops Iowa and New Hampshire. A successful campaign will allow current events to dictate the topics of the day. Even audience reaction can make a campaign shuffle the deck.
In his first campaign event, Castro led with pre-K, but if something else – maybe immigration or criminal justice, keep getting the biggest cheers – don’t be surprised if one of those jumps to the top of his speeches.