The Beto-Castro-Meter: We Need to Talk About Julián ...
Can Castro soldier on to Iowa, New Hampshire, and beyond?
For the third episode of So You Think You Can President? airing tonight (Thursday, Sept. 12) live from Houston – your friendly local Chronicle will be there – Beto O'Rourke and Julián Castro are both hanging on to the side of the 2020 Democratic starcruiser by their fingernails, standing next to each other on the outskirts of the stage at Texas Southern University. Though both are far from the top tier of three – Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren – Beto's once-loftier position means he qualified long ago for both this debate and next month's affair in Detroit, whereas Julián had to white-knuckle his way in late, along with Amy Klobuchar. The top 10 will all share just one stage tonight, but an 11th – billionaire activist Tom Steyer – has qualified for the October debate, after dumping an estimated $10 million from his own purse into targeted digital advertising (far more than Castro's raised the entire cycle) to buy himself 2% support in early-state polls and game the Democratic National Committee's system. And Julián – or at least his fundraising machine – is not happy about it! "My heart just dropped," pleads the subject line of an email appeal sent Tuesday, in which the former San Antonio mayor and U.S. housing secretary turns his biographical message into a tiny violin: "I wasn't born a frontrunner. I've worked hard for everything I've ever earned. I refuse to let millions in last-minute campaign cash drown us out. It would mean so much to me if I could count on your $5 if you want to see my message get a fighting shot at the next debates. ..."
Yes, Castro deserves better than to beg on the digital streets for spare change – although Kirsten Gillibrand and Jay Inslee might like a word about that – and having to stand right next to Beto as O'Rourke gets to be the cool kid again might be irksome to him, and to his fans. But facts are facts, and Beto's rebound from the El Paso tragedy back into the 2020 mix has yet to abate. He's gaining on Biden in the latest Texas polling, will likely show back-on-track fundraising numbers for the third quarter ending Sept. 30, and millions of Americans are eagerly waiting for him to say "Fuck!" on live TV right in David Muir's face. He has almost nothing to lose in the debates at this point; he'll make it all the way to Super Tuesday, and then be at least a mid-level Democratic rock star for years to come no matter what offices he seeks. What about Julián? Many already see his campaign as a race for the VP slot on the 2020 ticket; can he secure that with a solid performance in the debates, or if not, then can he raise the funds he (accurately) says he needs to soldier on to Iowa, New Hampshire and beyond?