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Julián Castro Has Left the 2020 Race

Julian Castro waves in profile in front of a black background.

Julián Castro’s 2020 presidential campaign is the latest casualty in a primary race that began as historically diverse but has progressively become much more white (and male) with passing time and increasingly strict qualifying standards.

Even if Castro wasn’t your top choice candidate, he was a huge benefit to this race, challenging other candidates and the primary system itself. He was pushing issues no one else was talking about. He was the only candidate to bring up trans rights when talking about reproductive justice on the debate stage. This is a better Democratic race because of him.

There’s any number of reasons why Castro’s campaign could have failed to get the traction it deserved but he–like Cory Booker, who also failed to make the last debate–is absolutely right that one big reason is that the Democratic National Committee’s rules for debate qualification are outdated in a way that benefits white candidates as well as the extremely wealthy ones. (It’s not a coincidence that there were more billionaires than people of color on the last debate stage.)

When Kamala Harris dropped out of the race last month, Booker said at a campaign event, “What message is that sending, that we heralded the most diverse field in our history, and now we’re seeing people like her dropping out of this campaign, not because Iowa voters had the voice? Voters did not determine her destiny.”

Castro criticized the DNC’s decision to raise the debate threshold so close to the Iowa caucus as well. “When you get that close to the caucus, shouldn’t you just let the people vote?” he said. “You’re already within a couple months. Just let the folks vote.”

But Castro also called into question the role that states like Iowa and New Hampshire play in the primary race. Those two states–both of which are more than 90% white–don’t represent the diversity of the country.

The order of these states is so important, since to qualify for a Democratic debate, the candidates have had to hit a certain polling number in either national polls or early-nominating states’ polls. By letting such overwhelmingly white states have such a disproportionately enormous say in this process, it’s tantamount to voter suppression, Castro has argued.

In November, Castro released a statement saying Democrats can’t “complain about Republicans suppressing the votes of people of color, and then begin our nominating contest in two states that hardly have people of color.” He also said that reducing calls for diversity to “identity politics” is “as absurd as it is anti-democratic.”

He echoed that statement last month in Waterloo, Iowa, when he told reporters, “If we truly value black women, for instance, and we keep telling them that they’re the key to our success, in places like Louisiana and Alabama and that they’re going to be key in 2020, then why do we start the most important nominating process in our whole party, the presidential nominating process in two states that hardly have any black people in them. Doesn’t make any sense.”

Calling for Iowa to give up some of its determining power while still dependent on Iowans’ votes–and saying this while in Iowa!–couldn’t have helped his polling numbers in the state. But his message was important so he was going to share it. Which is emblematic of Castro’s campaign overall. It’s sad to see him leave this race, but we’re fortunate to have had him here in the first place.

(image: Joshua Lott/Getty Images)
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Vivian Kane (she/her) has a lot of opinions about a lot of things. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri with her husband Brock Wilbur and too many cats.