Just over two months into his bid for president, Julián Castro said Tuesday evening that he does “not at all” feel overshadowed by fellow Texan Beto O’Rourke amid the former El Paso congressman’s splashy presidential campaign rollout.
It was Castro's first public event in his home state since O’Rourke entered the Democratic presidential primary last week, making a bigger dent in the national race than Castro managed when he officially kicked off his campaign in January.
While O'Rourke spoke to a huge cheering crowd in Keene, New Hampshire, Tuesday night, Castro addressed his own packed room in a much smaller venue — St. Pete's Dancing Marlin, a Deep Ellum restaurant near downtown Dallas.
Castro said he’s not afraid of the competition — more than a dozen Democrats are now vying to take on President Donald Trump — but he knows winning won’t come easily.
“I don’t start off as a frontrunner, I’m the underdog in this race. But you know what? Where I grew up, nobody grew up as a frontrunner,” Castro told a crowded group of supporters packed into the restaurant.
“There are a lot of people in America right now who don’t feel like frontrunners. I’m going to go out and talk to them and make sure America serves them too.”
Those remarks echoed comments Castro made over the weekend in Las Vegas that were widely perceived as a swipe at O'Rourke.
“I’m the one from the other side of the tracks,” Castro said, according to the Associated Press. “I’m the one that didn’t grow up as a front runner.”
The dig played into a criticism that O'Rourke has had to grapple with in the opening days of his campaign: his privilege as a white man with a relatively comfortable upbringing.
Campaigning Tuesday night in New Hampshire, O'Rourke declined to respond to the jab and instead praised Castro.
“I really admire him,” O'Rourke told The Texas Tribune. “I often talk about his leadership on ensuring that more people in San Antonio could look forward to world-class pre-K-through-12 system. He did extraordinary service as secretary of housing and urban development, and I'm really glad that he's in the race. His perspective, his experiences, his leadership is needed in this field.”
In Dallas, meanwhile, Castro said he was getting “good traction with folks” when he campaigns in Iowa and New Hampshire.
“I’m looking forward to working hard in this campaign in the 46 weeks we have left until the Iowa Caucus to make sure that at the right time I’m the frontrunner of this race,” he said. “I’m confident that by the time people start voting that I’m going to do well.”
A national Emerson poll released Tuesday showed Castro at one percent support compared to O’Rourke’s 11 percent among Democratic primary voters.
Castro added that he didn’t feel the attention surrounding O’Rourke had caused his own campaign to fall to the wayside, telling reporters that he believes “people are looking for someone with a strong track record of getting things done and with a strong vision for the future of the country.”
O’Rourke — who rose to national prominence last year after his closer-than-expected loss to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz — drew months of speculation over whether he would throw his hat in the ring. Though he had somewhat of a rocky entrance into the presidential field last week – stories broke detailing his past connections to Republican donors and disturbing writings he produced while involved with a hacking group as a teen – O’Rourke silenced some of his critics on Monday, when he announced raising $6.1 million in the first 24 hours of his campaign, surpassing every other campaign in the race that had disclosed its first-day figures.
At Tuesday’s meet and greet, Castro, who has not yet released any information about his campaign's fundraising, remained laser focused on his own policy proposals. Among his priorities: universal pre-K, tuition-free public universities and community colleges and “Medicare for everybody who wants it.”
And what’s working in Castro’s favor, some of his supporters said, is his resume. Before announcing his presidential run, the former San Antonio Mayor served as former U.S. housing secretary under President Barack Obama.
“Julián is very enthusiastic and he knows what he’s going to do. He already knows what he wants to do for the country as opposed to Beto,” said Emma Harrell of Dallas, who said she’s already decided to support Castro over O’Rourke. “[Julián] has … a lot of good experience, and I’m sure serving under President Obama taught him a few things.”
Others at the event were interested in what the San Antonio Democrat could bring to the table but were not yet ready to commit.
“I’m still trying to decide who to support. I’m interested in all of the candidates and I don’t want to jump on one early on,” said Dan Nichols of Denton County. “We need somebody who’s exciting and has some charisma. A lot of what my decision will come down to is personality.”
The Texas Tribune provided this report. Patrick Svitek contributed.