Julian Castro: Obama Near Clinton

Photograph by David Goldman/AP Photo

Volunteer Ginny Barahona of Washington, hands out buttons before first lady Michelle Obama spoke at a Hispanic caucus.

Updated at 12:10 pm EDT

President Barack Obama has a good chance of approaching former President Bill Clinton’s performance among Latino voters in November, says Julian Castro, the mayor of San Antonio, Texas.

“The president is the only one in Washington who’s tried to do anything on immigration reform,” Castro said at a breakfast in Charlotte today sponsored by Bloomberg and the Washington Post.  And Obama has addressed issues that are critical to a community that thirsts for education and needs health care. “They don’t have health care,” he said of many within the nation’s fast-growing Latino community — “If they see they’re going to have health care under the (president’s) affordable care act,” he said, that’s a major draw.

For Republican Mitt Romney, the challenge faced within the Latino community “is not the personalities,” Castro said. “It’s the policies.”

Obama was elected in 2008 with a two-to-one advantage among Latino voters, collecting 67 percent of the vote in his contest with Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, who had been a champion of comprehensive immigration reform in the Senate which never passed.

Clinton garnered 73 percent of the vote — indeed it was his share of the Cuban-American vote in Florida in 1996 that enabled the former Democratic president to claim the Sunshine State in his re-election bid after initially losing it to former President George H.W. Bush in 1992. Obama, too, won Florida in 2008 with the help of younger Cuban-American voters and swing-voting Puerto Rican-born voters in Central Florida.

Not only can Obama hope to surpass his vote among Latinos in November, Castro said today — the turnout also should be robust. “I believe that once he makes the case, voters will turn out.”

The president should be able to make his case that things are getting better economically in what is sure to be a “frank” convention address tonight accepting his party’s nomination, Castro said. On the gridlock in Washington, he said: “It takes two to Tango.”

Asked when the nation might be ready for a Latino mayor, Castro replied: “Now.”

Obama, he said, has “broken barriers.” Asked about his own aspirations, the mayor  – who holds a nonpartisan office but was raised in a Democratic household and looked to the late Bobby Kennedy assassinated seeking the presidency, farm-workers union leader Cesar Chavez and San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros as political role models growing up — says he hasn’t given it a single thought.

Asked if Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor who was raised in Texas and whose wife is Mexican-born , could reclaim some of the Latino vote that Republicans have lost, if he were to run for president in 2016, Castro said: “Certainly he has more of a claim than anybody else.”

Yet the political landscape has changed since 2000, when Bush’s older brother, another Texas-born politician who understands Latino issues, was elected president, Castro said — “we’re in a different place.” With the anti-immigrant initiatives spurred by Arizona’s governor and others, he said, the Republican Party is carrying a lot more “baggage” in the Latino community heading into future elections.

Obama also may even be making inroads among a community that holds family values dear, with his support of same-sex marriage, the mayor suggested. “We live in this society — especially after Obama’s election — that’s supposed to be post-racial,” he said, and that extends to rights of all kinds.’

Asked about his own keynote address to the Democratic National Convention this week, Castro called it a speech jointly written by him and party speechwriters — “They wanted it to resonate with the American people on the American Dream story.”

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