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Julian Castro On The Lack Of Diversity At The DNC And The Pitch To Latinx Voters

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

When the Democratic National Convention kicks off this evening, almost no one will be taking the literal stage. But on the figurative stage via video stream, speakers including Michelle Obama and Bernie Sanders will make the case for why voters should go blue this November. Just one of those politicians tonight will be Latino or Latina - Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada - one voice despite the fact that Latinos are expected to be the largest minority voting bloc this year.

Julian Castro was a Democratic presidential candidate. He served as secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Obama and was mayor of San Antonio.

Secretary Castro, welcome.

JULIAN CASTRO: Great to be with you.

KELLY: So you will not be speaking at the DNC this year, and I want to start there. As the only Latino Democratic presidential candidate this go around, do you think that was a miss on the part of the party?

CASTRO: Well, look. I know that they have a very difficult challenge this year because usually, you know, in most years the broadcast and cable networks give them three or four hours every night of primetime coverage. And they condensed that for each party down to one hour each night. So...

KELLY: A couple airs (ph) - yeah...

CASTRO: Yeah, there are a lot fewer out there.

KELLY: ...Total. Yeah - so much fewer.

CASTRO: Yeah. But look. You know, last week I saw the schedule. And out of the 35 primetime speakers, only three of them were Latino. There were no Native Americans, no Muslim Americans. And I said that that was - I didn't think that completely reflected this beautiful, diverse coalition, this big tent that Democrats have put together over these last few years.

However, over the weekend, they did make some good announcements of additional speakers, including Latinas and Latinos and Native American and Muslim American speakers. So that's a positive. And more important than, you know, the words is the actions. And...

KELLY: Right.

CASTRO: You know, it's great that we have a track record - you know, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have a track record of embracing everybody in this country. And I'm confident that Joe Biden is going to be a president for all Americans.

KELLY: How would you grade that record so far if I asked you to give a letter grade for outreach to Latino voters by the Democrats so far this year?

CASTRO: (Laughter) Well, I learned quite some time ago to let other people give letter grades or number grades, but I'll say this. It is robust in 2020. They're investing in these swing states like Florida, you know, and also new swing states like Arizona and even Georgia and Texas, North Carolina, where there are a lot of Latinos. They're also investing in digital ads and voter registration, a number of different ways to ensure that there's robust Latino participation.

And that - we need to do it because from 2012 to 2016, Latino participation fell from 48.5% to 47%. We lost Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania by 77,000 votes, and you have growing Hispanic communities even in those states. And so, you know, we can't take anything for granted, whether it's the Latino community or any other community, in 2020.

KELLY: Well, in terms of Latino voters and getting them out, let's stay there for a second because it's interesting. Latinos who are registered to vote cast their ballots at the same rate as other groups, but registration itself remains problematic. It lags behind other groups. And now we - of course, we have a pandemic and all of the challenges that presents. How should Democrats ramp up registration among Latino voters?

CASTRO: Well, it's going to rely on digital efforts. You know, one of the things I've done is partnered with Voto Latino, which is the most effective group out there that has done digital native campaigns to reach especially young Latinas and Latinos to get them registered. And they've set a goal of registering at least 500,000 new Latino voters by November, especially in seven different swing states. That's the kind of work that we need to be doing to make sure that people are registered. And then also, there's a follow-through to make sure they actually turn out. You know, Voto Latino has...

KELLY: Yeah.

CASTRO: ...A turnout rate of - about 79% of the people that they register actually go and vote.

KELLY: One more question in the minute or so we have left on policy - when you and Joe Biden were running against each other, you criticized him for immigration policies endorsed by the Obama-Biden administration that you said hurt families. What do you say now to Latino voters who remain concerned about how a President Biden might handle immigration in the future?

CASTRO: Oh, that Joe Biden is night and day compared to Donald Trump. His immigration policy is based on common sense. It is based on compassion. He would ensure that we stop treating people cruelly and that we have a reasonable...

KELLY: Right.

CASTRO: ...Immigration approach. So, yeah, I mean, there is no comparison. I mean, Donald Trump has been...

KELLY: Right.

CASTRO: ...The absolute worst president toward migrants and folks seeking a better life here.

KELLY: OK. We will leave it there. I'll let last statement stand for you. That's Julian Castro, former secretary.

Thank you so much for speaking with us.

CASTRO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.