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Julian Castro On Obama's Legacy, Latino Voter Turnout


Hillary Clinton will formally accept the Democratic nomination for president here tomorrow evening. Last night after the roll call, she appeared via video.


HILLARY CLINTON: And if there are any little girls out there who stayed up late to watch, let me just say, I may become the first woman president, but one of you is next. Thank you all. I can't wait to join you in Philadelphia. Thank you.


GREENE: Now, sometimes the speeches at these conventions can launch careers. Think Barack Obama back in 2004, at that point, a little-known state senator from Illinois. Four years ago, the star was then-San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro.


JULIAN CASTRO: And with the opportunity we build today for a shared prosperity tomorrow, America will prevail. It begins with re-electing Barack Obama. It begins with you. It begins now.


GREENE: Now Julian Castro serves in Obama's administration. He is secretary at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. His boss, the president, will speak tonight. And we spoke to Castro about that just off the convention floor. He began talking about the importance of Hillary Clinton's candidacy.

CASTRO: A couple of years ago, my wife, Erica, and I were getting our daughter ready for school and an image of President Obama was on one of the morning shows. And I said, oh, look, Carina, there's the president. You can be president one day. And she said, right away, that's for boys. And so right away I said, oh, no, you can be a doctor. You can be a lawyer. You can be anything you want. You can be president. For my daughter, it's going to mean something special that Hillary Clinton accepts the nomination on Thursday, and I wanted to make sure that she sees that.

GREENE: I want to ask you about one thing you said four years ago. You said that in this country, anyone who works hard should be able to make it into the middle class. There's so many Americans right now who feel like they're working really, really hard. And getting into the middle class is so difficult. It feels impossible. What's gone wrong?

CASTRO: I think that both Bernie and Hillary have highlighted how much, over the last few decades, we have seen the concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands. Some of that has been tax policy. A lot of that has been that we haven't kept up with raising the minimum wage.

GREENE: But doesn't President Obama have to own those kinds of things if it's been under his watch?

CASTRO: We've seen tremendous progress in many ways under President Obama. I mean, if we think about where the economy was when he got in - you know, we were losing more than 700,000 jobs a month. The unemployment rate was skyrocketing. And now it's at under 5 percent, so there is a lot of progress that has happened. But at the same time, it's people that are employed - many folks - but they're still not earning enough to get into the middle class.

GREENE: Let me ask you about another part of President Obama's record. A lot of Latinos in this country - very angry about the number of deportations of people in the country illegally. Do you blame a lot of Latinos for being angry about that?

CASTRO: Number one, this president is someone who has done more to protect and keep together families with DACA and then with DAPA...

GREENE: We're talking about the Dream Act, even the idea...

CASTRO: Yeah...

GREENE: ...Of letting people who are...

CASTRO: ...The Dream Act and then...

GREENE: ...The sons and daughters of people in the country illegally...

CASTRO: ...Expanding that...

GREENE: ...To stay.

CASTRO: ...To the parents, basically, of the dreamers, which was DAPA. I understand, of course, the concern that a lot of folks have had with the number of deportations. But there again, I believe that the president has made an earnest attempt to address those issues.

GREENE: How...

CASTRO: You know, I just want to note, you know, I'm speaking in my personal capacity...


CASTRO: ...Not in my official one.

GREENE: But are you worried about the Latino turnout? I mean, this is a population that is growing but has historically turned out in smaller numbers than other voters in the country. And are you worried that anger might make it hard to turn out people who could be incredibly crucial to Hillary Clinton winning this race?

CASTRO: In my mind, there's no question that Donald Trump has energized the Latino community more than any other presidential candidate. Unfortunately for him, he's done that in a negative way. What I hear from people out there is they always say that he doesn't like us. And so they're energized. They're ready to go out and vote. There's a difference between being ready and energized and actually going out and voting. And so my concern is that - what the campaign has to do is to pull those folks out and make sure that they actually get to the ballot...

GREENE: Because it - I mean, we've done some demographic studies, looking at states like Florida and Ohio, Pennsylvania, that if she doesn't hold the level of Latino support that President Obama got, that opens an opportunity for Donald Trump to win maybe just a percentage or two more than Mitt Romney in the white, working-class vote. And he gets some of those states.

CASTRO: I cannot imagine a scenario where Donald Trump does better than Mitt Romney with the Hispanic vote. It's going to be difficult for Trump to overcome the deep first impression that he gave to the Latino community with his comments right out of the gate about Mexican immigrants, with his comments about Judge Curiel, well...

GREENE: This is the judge who made the decision about...

CASTRO: ...Because of his Mexican heritage.

GREENE: ...The Trump University.

CASTRO: Yeah. I mean, people are listening to that. And it's going to make a difference.

GREENE: Would it have helped to really lock up the Latino vote to have a Latino running mate?

CASTRO: You know, Tim Kaine is an excellent choice for vice president.

GREENE: But you had to be thinking, in 2012, about this possibility of being on a ticket as a running mate in 2016.

CASTRO: In 2012...

GREENE: You were on the short list.

CASTRO: I definitely was not thinking about that in - I was just trying to get by my speech.

GREENE: (Laughter).

CASTRO: I was so nervous.

GREENE: What about leading up to 2016? I mean, you were on the short list. I mean, you disappointed at all?

CASTRO: Oh, you know, of course. There's always a little bit of disappointment. At the same time, number one, she made a great choice. Secondly, I'm 41. And so I feel like - that I'm excited about the years to come.

GREENE: Secretary Castro, real pleasure. Thank you very much, appreciate it.

CASTRO: Thanks a lot.

GREENE: All right, listening there to Julian Castro. I'm with Janet Hook - she covers national politics with The Wall Street Journal - Don Gonyea, an NPR national political correspondent.

Don, what do you expect to hear from President Obama tonight?

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: First, he's going to stand there and look out and, I think, reflect on what these conventions, Democratic National Conventions, have meant to him and his career. This is his - it's not probably his last speech but the last time he'll stand there as president. He will talk about achievements to be defended that Hillary Clinton will be able to defend. He'll talk about progress that still needs to come, and it's going to be a moment.

GREENE: Janet Hook, has there been a moment - will there be a moment for someone who will sort of be seen as the rising star in Philadelphia?

JANET HOOK: Well, President Obama is the man who basically has defined the convention as a potential platform for a career because his convention speech in 2004 really put him on the on the map. Monday night here at the convention was kind of rising star night because we heard from Senator Cory Booker. He's often thought of as the next...

GREENE: From New Jersey, yeah.

HOOK: ...Barack Obama. And we heard from Elizabeth Warren. Her star has, in a way, already risen, best equipped, probably of all, to pick up Bernie Sanders' legacy.

GREENE: OK. Janet Hook from The Wall Street Journal and my colleague Don Gonyea. Thanks to the great people at member station WHYY as they help us cover this from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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