Harris/Castro: Progressive 2020 Fantasy League, Part I

They have executive, prosecutorial, legislative and Cabinet experience. But can they win?

Is this the progressive dream team?

While we all gape aghast at the so-called dumpster fire that our republic has become, many progressives are closing their eyes and wishing with all their might for the arrival of  the 2020 election. There are now at least 24 declared candidates for the Democratic nomination. Judging by the rate at which these declarations have been coming, we can expect half of Congress, an overripe banana and a Catskills meth-head to join the race as well. It’s a dizzying field rife with familiar names (Biden, Sanders, Booker, Warren), plus upstarts (O’Rourke, Buttigieg), plus comparative strangers (Steve Bullock? Also, why is the creator of A Chorus Line running?).

While all candidates have their pros and cons, many are running for a kind of second place: future Vice-President, future Cabinet Secretary. For this reason, it’s a worthwhile exercise to explore potential combinations of likely top-ticket contenders with those perhaps more suited to balancing a ticket. My personal favorite: Sen. Kamala Harris for President and former HUD Secretary Julian Castro as her running mate.

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Harris and Castro have compelling personal stories. Harris, a career prosecutor with a keen and dangerously sharp interrogation style, is a California native of Jamaican and Tamil Indian descent. The daughter of a breast cancer scientist and Stanford economics professor, she experienced both a Baptist and Hindi upbringing while growing up primarily in Canada. A member of the California bar for almost 30 years, she quickly rose through the prosecutorial ranks, first becoming the district attorney of San Francisco, then Attorney General of California, then the Senate. She’s married with two adult stepchildren.

Julián Castro, a native of San Antonio, Texas, is the son of political activists and twin of Rep. Joaquin Castro, who is heading up his brother’s campaign. Active in both sports and academics, he graduated high school early and both Castro brothers headed to Stanford, where they tied for the most votes for seats in the student senate. The brothers then both headed to Harvard Law. Julián Castro then went on to become mayor of San Antonio; he received 82.9% of the vote in his first reelection campaign. In 2012, he became the first person of Latin descent to deliver a keynote to the Democratic National Convention. Fun fact: Castro initially turned down becoming Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Obama as he was eyeing a run for Texas governor; when he reconsidered, he became the youngest member of Obama’s Cabinet. Like Harris, he’s also married with two young children.

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Beyond their interesting profiles, the more important question is how these two line up on the issues that matter to most Democrats. Both are in lockstep on equality, LGBTQ issues, a woman’s right to choose, education, gun control — really, all the Democratic hot-ticket items. I recommend that you visit their websites (hers and his) for more because this column is about what many say matters most of all: electability.

Any analysis of electability must contain a discussion of candidates’ inherent advantages and disadvantages. Harris’ prosecutorial record, for example, is strong in terms of volume of convictions and plea-bargain rates, and that concerns some progressives. Indeed, some progressives sensitive to optics may not love the image of a woman of color putting so many men of color in prison. I would argue, however, that her record against oil companies and white-collar crime balances this to some extent and, let’s be frank, it will win her a lot of support from moderates (if there are any left by 2020). Though she was initially a bit awkward in public interviews, Harris has definitely settled into her campaign persona and comes across as real, warm, likable and tough. Her cross-interrogations of members of the Trump administration and frat-boy-turned-Justice Kavanaugh have significantly boosted her street cred: she’s unafraid to tell powerful old white men a bit about themselves.

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Castro, on the other hand, faces the challenge of overcoming a public persona that can come off as naïve and idealist. Yet, to his benefit, perhaps we could all do with a little optimism these days. His record as mayor and HUD Secretary is excellent (I suspect he would not mistake an REO for a cookie), and his modest demeanor is balanced by some of his more strident views on the left (universal basic income, universal pre-K and health care). If he’s also comfortably in line with most of the party’s platform, he could still be a little stronger on environmental concerns and gun control.

So, there is much to like about both candidates and the concerns of extremely liberal progressives are, I would proffer, reasonably modest. This then translates into enormous potential in terms of voter turnout and electoral math. California is solid blue, a progressive island-nation unto itself and its native daughter can count on its 55 electoral votes. Though I don’t know if the devil himself could turn Texas blue, the popularity of the Castro brothers could put a significant down payment on earning Texas’ 38 electoral votes. In an ode to her dual heritage, maybe Harris could energize both Indian and African Americans to make, as Obama did, unusually strong showings at the polls. As for Castro, if a popular and qualified Latino is on the ticket, then with the new felon voting laws taking effect, Florida could — could — be back squarely in play.

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If we’re lucky, we could have a scenario in which the interest of three of the bases of the Democratic Party — women, African Americans and Latinos — start soaring. Picture it: Florida, California and maybe even Texas leaning blue. That, my friends, would be the election. And we have multiple scenarios: Pennsylvania is currently none too happy with the President. Ohio may be lost for good and Illinois will come down blue, but the effects of trade war with China might demolish any of the lingering Republican support in Michigan and Wisconsin (believe me about the latter — I live there).

Harris and Castro bring executive, prosecutorial, legislative and Cabinet experience. They are young, articulate, smart, handsome and sincere, and offer a gorgeous combination of backgrounds and experience.

Next time, join me for Warren-Buttigieg. (Anyone want to start a fantasy league?)