CEDAR RAPIDS — Julian Castro says he is committed to “speaking bluntly, and being bold and fearless” as he campaigns for support in Iowa’s first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses.
And that means telling Iowans things they may not want to hear — like how the Iowa caucuses should not really be first.
“It just doesn’t make sense,” the Texas Democrat said Monday after attending a Veterans Day observance in Cedar Rapids. “That’s the truth. Not a lot of people are willing to say it.”
That might be because Castro and other Democratic candidates signed a pledge to support Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status as part of the invitation to the state party’s Liberty & Justice Celebration this month.
“I was surprised by (his comments) considering that he just signed a pledge to keep Iowa first,” Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price said later. “But you know, if he feels like this is the way to win over voters, well, then that’s his prerogative.”
A campaign spokesman said Castro isn’t advocating a change in the current election cycle, but is not committed to maintaining the current caucus and primary schedule beyond 2020.
Like party chairs before him, Price has had to defend Iowa’s leadoff position from Democrats elsewhere who want the attention Iowa gets.
“The reason why this process starts here is Iowans take this role seriously,” he said. “This isn’t a place where it’s who has the most money determines who wins.
“This is about getting out there, having hard conversations, talking to people,” Price said. “We ask the hard questions ... the questions that a lot of people across the country want to know the answers to.”
Castro said he doesn’t doubt that.
“I have tremendous respect for the people of Iowa and New Hampshire,” he said. “They take the process very seriously. I’ve enjoyed the fact that people will go out to town halls and listen to many different candidates before they make up their minds.”
However, he believes the nomination contest should not start in Iowa, which “does not reflect demographically either the United States or, certainly not, the Democratic Party.”
“Iowa has had the caucus since 1972 and our country has changed a lot since 1972. The Democratic Party has changed a lot since 1972,” said Castro, a Hispanic.
Iowa is 91 percent white and 21 percent of its voting-age adults are senior citizens, according to census data. The United States is 76 percent white, and 16 percent of the population is 65 or older.
Castro acknowledged that his comments, which he first made Sunday on NBC News, might not be popular with the state’s political activists. But he thinks many Iowans see his point.
“One of the great things was that we saw on Twitter yesterday was people from Iowa tweeting out that even though they live here in Iowa, that they actually agree and have agreed for a while that other states actually deserve a chance to go first,” Castro said.
Ellen McDonald tweeted that as an Iowan she has “felt extremely lucky to have access to candidates. Even so, I agree with you 100%.”
It wasn’t unanimous.
Don Banning said Iowa isn’t Castro’s problem. “Iowan here ... getting tired of candidates who have NO CHANCE of gaining the nomination piling on and blaming Iowa ... we have exactly six (6) electoral votes. SIX ... we are who we are ... we’re first in the nation CAUCUS ... that’s it ... don’t blame us for your failure!”
Castro is polling at 1 percent or less in many Iowa and national polls. He has laid off staff in New Hampshire and South Carolina, but plans to continue to campaign in Iowa.
He was in Iowa City Sunday and will travel Tuesday from Iowa City with a Honduran refugee at risk of deportation to a meeting with Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Cedar Rapids.
“I’m here in Iowa today and I’m going to be here again in Iowa and compete during this 2020 process,” he said. “I don’t believe that Iowans or people from any other state, if they’re truly concerned about the fate of our country, are going to make their decision about a candidate based on whether they get to go first in a party’s electoral system or not.”
It’s ironic, he added, that his comments on the process are considered more radical “than truly great ideas that we ought to be pursuing.”
“As Democrats we cannot talk about the ways in which the electoral process votes have been suppressed and the votes, especially of people of color, have been manipulated” without also talking about the nominating process in Iowa and New Hampshire not reflecting the nation and Democratic Party, Castro said.
Changing the order of the nomination contests would allow activists in other states to enjoy what Iowans have come to love about the caucuses, Castro said.
“Truth be told,” he said with a smile, “I want to give people of another state the great opportunity to watch thousands and thousands of ads and make them sick, too.”
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