Team Hillary to Julian Castro: Back off

The media has noticed that new HUD Secretary and former San Antonio mayor Julian Castro has upped his public profile as the presidential race heats up. He’s not jockeying for a position in the race itself, according to analysts, but attempting to position himself as a potential running mate for the Democratic nominee — specifically, Hillary Clinton. Part of that effort apparently entails rounding up Hispanic activists to pressure Hillary into moving him to the short list in case she wins the nomination, report Politico’s Gabriel DeBenedetti and Annie Karni. Team Hillary is less than amused at the power play, tossing a brushback pitch to teach the upstart a thing or two:

The flashy trial balloon and Castro’s innate appeal have likely ensured the Mexican-American Cabinet member a place on Clinton’s vice presidential long list if she wins the nomination, Democrats close to Clinton said. But Castro hardly has any relationship with the candidate herself, and the effort has gotten a mixed reception at best.

Democrats say it’s far too early for this conversation — arguing that it’s unproductive to talk about a general election ticket when Clinton is battling three other declared Democratic candidates and the ever-present perception of inevitability.

“If I were Julián Castro I’d be worried,” said one Clinton ally with an eye on Democrats’ efforts to woo Hispanic voters. “Others who are in his corner need to dial down those effusive musings.”

The piece has almost no one on the record with that point of view. One on-the-record conversation comes from Henry Cisneros, himself a former HUD Secretary and mayor of San Antonio prior to Castro’s emergence, although Politico quotes other Latinos in the Democratic Party extolling Castro’s virtues. Cisneros wants Castro on the ticket, calling him “the superior candidate” based in part on his record (of what?), but also his “Latin heritage.”

Another on-the-record conversation comes from Chris Lehane, a longtime Clinton ally, who wonders how Democrats can possibly argue that a mayor and a HUD Secretary can be considered ready to be a heartbeat away from the big chair — perhaps especially when the top of the ticket is 69 years old. At least Dan Quayle had two terms in the Senate.

Remember when Democrats made the same point about the GOP’s running mate in 2008? Team Hillary does, and another anonymouse from Team Clinton delivered this parting shot at Castro and his cheerleading squad:

“Yes, he’s a rising star, and people even talk about him being the first Latino president,” said the Democratic strategist allied with Clinton. “But now is just not the time, in this day and age when people are looking for real presidential experience. [President Barack] Obama was on the receiving end of charges of not being prepared.”

“John McCain chose Sarah Palin and was bashed for that,” she added. “She has more experience than [Castro] does.”

Actually, Palin had more experience in executive governance than any of the three other people on the major-party tickets at the time. Democrats insisted that Palin couldn’t be trusted with the job, especially with John McCain’s age and potential health issues. It’ll be a little too much of a parallel for a campaign that will already get plenty of comparisons to the 2008 Republican effort.

Besides, this misses a couple of key points. First, the candidate at the top of the ticket can’t afford to be overshadowed by their running mate, and the focus on Castro — his personality and his lack of credibility — would almost certainly do that, muddying up the message. Second, running mates don’t win or lose elections. Despite the ridicule heaped on Quayle, George H. W. Bush came from double-digit polling deficits to easily beat Michael Dukakis. Walter Mondale lost 49 states in 1984 despite adding Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate as the first woman on a major ticket. Barack Obama won two elections with the gaffe-prone Joe Biden despite an earlier plagiarism scandal. It helps to have a sound and capable running mate, but voters cast ballots for the presidency, not for the coolness of the person at the bottom of the ticket.

The message from Clintonland sounds pretty clear in any case: Back off, kid.