The Nation: Can Cruz Or Castro Grab The Big Prize? Texas politicians Ted Cruz and Julian Castro have been in the news a lot lately as they burst onto the national political stage. The Nation's Greg Mitchell serves up some information on both men and wonders if either has the chops to be the first Hispanic president.
NPR logo The Nation: Can Cruz Or Castro Grab The Big Prize?

The Nation: Can Cruz Or Castro Grab The Big Prize?

University of Colorado Denver student Mahala Greer and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro talk prior to President Obama's State of the Union address on January 24, 2012 in Washington, D.C. Win McNamee/Getty Images hide caption

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Win McNamee/Getty Images

University of Colorado Denver student Mahala Greer and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro talk prior to President Obama's State of the Union address on January 24, 2012 in Washington, D.C.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Greg Mitchell writes the Media Fix blog at The Nation and is the author of more than a dozen nonfiction books.

It was two-for-Texas time this week with two remarkable political developments starring a pair of leading Hispanics in that state.

First, Democratic leaders picked Julian Castro, the youngish mayor of San Antonio, to deliver the keynote address as their party's national convention in Charlotte next month. This was the type of sudden exposure that promoted a young Illinois state legislator to national attention just eight years ago. A Daily Beast headline this week posed this question: "Is Democratic Convention Keynote Speaker Julian Castro the Next Obama?"

Then Republican voters handed a surprise victory in their run-off for a US Senate nod to the youngish Ted Cruz, a Tea Party favorite who bested the pick of the state's establishment, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. Cruz appears headed to an easy win in November in the very red state and, like Sen. Marco Rubio, will be touted as the bright hope for the GOP, especially in winning back Hispanics, and a certain contender for president in the very near future.

Cruz has, by far, earned the most ink this week, but two of the leading media memes surrounding him each have holes. Nearly every reporter within the smart set in D.C. labeled his win a sign of the Tea Party's growing power, even as journos in Texas pointed out that Tea Partiers lost several other key races in the state on the same day. Also there was the matter of former Tea Party darling Rick Perry backing his opponent.

Plus: Cruz may have had the backing of the hard right, but his platform varied little from Dewhurst's and, in fact, he is about as establishment as they come, with his Harvard degree, positions in the Bush administration and appearances before the U.S. Supreme Court, often arguing on behalf of big business.

The other media meme held that Cruz would now become (as the New York Times put it) the "intellectual" head of the Tea Party caucus in Washington. Now one could acknowledge: that's not saying much. But still, despite his brains, few mainstream reporters apointed out that this "intellectual" was nearly as wacky as the other rightwingers (good roundup here). Just one example: his embrace (just recently) of a conspiracy theory that holds that the United Nations, in league with George Soros, is plotting a takeover of golf courses and other green spaces. Or something like that. He's also one of those claiming Sharia law is about to take root in the United States.

Cruz's father, by the way, came from Cuba — he fought with Castro then turned against him when he realized he was "a Communist" — but there are no holes in his narrative, one problem Marco Rubio has faced. However, there's this fun fact: Ted was born in Canada. So future Democratic "birthers" might have some fun with the constitutional issues that could arise in a Cruz run for the White House (it didn't stop McCain, was born in Panama).

Anyway, I thought I'd go to a few credible sources far beyond Washington — you know, in Texas — for some tidbits and insight. A few highlights (more to come, down the road a bit):

  • From the Texas Tribune on Cruz: his leading funder — Peter Thiell, the wealthy co-founder of Pay Pal. Actually this poses some problems for Cruz in the primary, as Thiell is also a major backer of gay rights and pro-marijuana issues. From the Texas Observer: forget the other malarkey, Cruz was simply the better candidate and the Rick Perry era is over.
  • From the Burnt Orange site: Maybe Cruz's opponent, Paul Sadler, does have a (long) shot. From the Dem party statement: "Tonight was the Republican Party's Thelma and Louise moment. It may feel pretty exhilarating now, but that landing's going to be hell. A Ted Cruz victory is the worst thing that could have happened to Texas Republicans... It's a Tea-flavored mutiny, plain and simple. Now they're saddled with the Texas version of Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell. The inmates are running the asylum and middle class Texans are taking notice."
  • From Texas Monthly on Castro: a full everything-you-need-to-know. It seems Castro, who is 37, is the rare politician with an identical twin — Joaquin, who is favored to win a House seat this November. Their mother Rosie is "a former community activist and La Raza Unida leader." In 2002, Julian said, "To me, the ideal would be for people to be able to run based on their ideas but still mean something to the community they come from, because that's also part of what inspires people."

I admit I forgot about that major NYT magazine profile by Zev Chafets (Rush Limbaugh's buddy) in 2010. Chafets wrote of Julian then, "He supports free trade, including the North American Free Trade Agreement, advocates an energy policy that includes fossil fuels, believes in balanced budgets and refers to David Souter as his ideal Supreme Court justice. Like a large plurality of his fellow San Antonians, Castro is a Roman Catholic, but he was the first San Antonio mayor to be grand marshal when he marched in the annual gay rights parade, and he is pro-choice. 'We disagree on this, the pope and I,' he says with a smile."