Just days into his quest to become the first Latino presidential nominee in US history, Julián Castro, the former Obama administration housing chief, campaigned in New Hampshire, home to the first primary in the nation.
While candidates often make a beeline to either Iowa or New Hampshire after declaring they are running, Castro’s visit to the Granite state on Wednesday was the second stop of his new campaign after returning from Puerto Rico, a US territory where citizens are ineligible to vote in presidential elections.
“I went to San Juan, Puerto Rico, because I want every single American to know that everyone counts,” Castro told guests invited to a “Politics & Eggs” event hosted by Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire’s largest city, on Wednesday morning. “If we’ve faced any crisis over these last two years, it’s that we have an administration that doesn’t believe that. It is picking and choosing who gets opportunity and who doesn’t based on what you look like, based on your faith, based on how long you’ve been in this country.”
Castro’s two-day jaunt to New Hampshire featured no rallies and just one public event: A meet and greet at a coffee shop on Tuesday night. On Wednesday in Manchester, he told business leaders of his visions for a fairer and more prosperous America in the 21st century.
He then travelled nearly 50 miles north to the small city of Laconia, the seat of a county where Donald Trump saw his most dominant victory in the state in 2016, to tour its downtown and visit an addiction treatment centre.
In Laconia, Castro seemed most interested in learning about the challenges local business face and the ways the opioid crisis has ravaged this former mill town and other areas of New England.
Perhaps Castro’s unconventional style of early campaigning – marked by his Puerto Rico visit and the lack of rallies in New Hampshire – can help raise his profile as he enters a crowded Democratic primary field filled with political superstars.
Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren announced her exploratory committee on New Year’s Eve; Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard announced that she would seek the presidency last week; New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand threw her hat in the ring on Tuesday. Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, former vice-president Joe Biden, Vermont senator Bernie Sanders and and former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke are all tipped as contenders.
In New Hampshire, Castro got his first “official” taste of the campaign trail. “Here in New Hampshire, ya’ll take your politics as seriously as we take our barbecue in Texas,” he told the audience in Manchester, remarking on the state’s once every four years political fervour.
For many in New Hampshire, the visit was the first introduction to Castro.
As the candidate walked down a snow-piled Main Street in Laconia and dropped into local businesses, many did not seem to recognize him and instead appeared taken aback by the flock of cameras following him.
Laconia resident and business owner Carlos Cardona, who was helping guide Castro through the city, told him not to worry; when Obama first visited downtown Laconia in 2007, nobody knew who he was either.
In Manchester, Castro sought to introduce voters to his political platforms. Among them: using his first executive order to recommit the US to the Paris Agreement, universal healthcare, universal pre-kindergarten, tuition-free colleges, reforming the criminal justice system, raising the minimum wage and finding affordable housing solutions.
“It takes vision. My vision is that in the 21st century, America will be the smartest, healthiest, fairest and most prosperous nation on earth,” he told the crowd.
Speaking to the Guardian, Castro laid out a foreign policy platform that involved repairing damaged alliances and moving away from the “erratic” decision-making of the Trump administration.
“The number one thing I am going to do as president, at the beginning of my administration if I’m elected, is to repair the damaged relationships that this administration has caused around the world,” he said.
Washington should forge new alliances, Castro said, particularly in Latin America. If citizens of those nations can feel safe in their home countries, he argued, it could help stem the flow of migrants arriving at the US’s southern border.
On Syria, Castro said he supported withdrawing US troops, but in a “sensible way”.
“What’s been missing from the president’s foreign policy has been a consistent and well thought out approach,” he said. “He has been very erratic. And that’s what needs to change in the next administration.”
While Cardona, one of Castro’s guides through Laconia, said he hopes to welcome more Democratic candidates to the city and remains undecided, he appeared enthusiastic about Castro.
“As a Latino myself, I think it’s important that we have a Latino standing up during this administration,” he said, adding that he considered Castro a “top tier” candidate.
And if he does take the nomination, Castro believes he can beat Trump.
“I believe that the Democratic nominee in 2020, whoever he or she is, will be able to win that election. Because I think more and more people are seeing that we’re falling short with this president, that America can do much better,” he said. “So I’m confident that if I’m the nominee, I can win in 2020.”
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