CHUCK MALLOY: Castro brings ‘progressive’ road show to Idaho

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Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro, the former San Antonio mayor and HUD secretary, is a long way from even being considered as his party’s frontrunner for the nomination. But that doesn’t stop him from thinking big things for the future.

Castro says he’s looking forward to Inauguration Day in 2021 when he, as president, escorts outgoing president Donald Trump from the White House. Castro said he would graciously thank Trump for his service. “I’m sure he’d be headed to Mar-a-Lago or New York … the helicopter will be waiting … and just before he leaves, I will tell him, ‘Adios.’”

OK, you almost had to be there to fully appreciate the humor, but Castro’s timing and delivery were flawless. It was a red-meat moment for some 400 people at Boise State University who gathered to greet Castro — showing that the football turf is not the only sign of “blue” at BSU. The crowd howled with laughter at the verbal picture that Castro was painting. In fact, they pretty much soaked up everything else the candidate was saying during his roughly 45-minute visit.

There’s a lot to like about Castro, for sure. He’s young (44), bright, engaging and takes a back seat to no one with his ability to rally support from a crowd. His challenge for winning the nomination will be separating himself from the dozen, or more, Democrats entering the race. So far, Democrats mostly are saying the same things — Medicare for everybody, tuition-free colleges, a $15-per-hour minimum wage and affordable housing.

Castro, who plans to visit all 50 states during his campaign, says he wants to “ensure that you have a job, you have good health care and your children and grandchildren are getting a good education,” he says. “I came here to Boise, because there are not a lot of Democrats who will do that. I want you to know that everybody is going to count when this administration is gone.”

It was a “progressive” message this crowd wanted to hear — similar to what Sen. Bernie Sanders (who is running again) talked about in his campaign three years ago. Sanders’ platform was considered “radical” in 2016; today it’s part of mainstream thinking on the Democratic side.

Democrats certainly could do worse than Castro, who is much younger and more visually attractive than Sanders. But it would be interesting to see what happens if he wins. I didn’t hear anything he said that would be remotely attractive to Republicans, some of whom would be happy to see Trump go away. But, in fairness, Castro wasn’t preparing a speech for a GOP crowd. He was playing to the kind of Democrats who gave Sanders overwhelming support during the 2016 primary election.

Former Idaho Democratic Congressman Richard Stallings says there’s no running away from it. “It’s socialism and, in my generation, that’s considered to be a terrible thing,” he said. “But to this generation, they don’t seem to care.”

Shelby Scott, the Idaho Democratic Party’s political director, has a different view. Issues and attitudes can change over time. Medicaid expansion in Idaho, once considered to be part of that radical progressive agenda, is now part of the political mainstream after more than two-thirds of Idaho voters favored Proposition 2. Gov. Brad Little, who spent at least a couple of years working for alternatives to Medicaid expansion, is now among the lead advocates.

Scott is staying neutral in the Democratic presidential race, but she’s impressed with Castro. “He’s a young fresh face who has a message that resonates with Idaho Democratic voters.”

She’s especially pleased about the excitement he brought to Democrats during the early stages of this presidential campaign. Castro attracted an overflow crowd after less than 48-hour notice of his visit.

“It shows that Democrats can organize quickly,” she said. “There are pockets of blue in this state, with Boise State being one of them.”

It also shows that the Gem State can be a player in this Democratic presidential campaign, where every vote will matter to a crowded field of candidates.

• • •

Chuck Malloy, a longtime Idaho journalist and Silver Valley native, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly. He may be reached at ctmalloy@outlook.com.

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