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Julian Castro, Democratic National Convention Keynote Speaker, Shows Party's Focus On Latinos

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San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro gives the keynote address at the Texas Democratic Convention in Houston on June 8.
San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro gives the keynote address at the Texas Democratic Convention in Houston on June 8.

WASHINGTON -- San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro will be the first Latino keynote speaker of the Democratic National Convention -- an event chaired by Latino Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa -- in a year of intense jockeying for the Latino vote.

It's a tradition of the convention: picking up-and-comers who also, not coincidentally, can appeal to states and demographics that the party hopes to win. In 2004, the honor went to then-senatorial candidate Barack Obama. In 2008, another candidate, now Sen. Mark Warner, native of the swing state of Virginia, gave the keynote speech.

Castro's appeal, in the short term, isn't geographic. There are no designs among Democrats about winning Texas this year. But he is from an important demographic group that the party is hoping to lock up both for this election and also campaigns to come.

"Not only was the administration and Democratic National Committee recognizing the importance of Hispanics in America, but also I think it tells you that they're seriously looking at Texas, at the demographic changes that have occurred in Texas [that] are making this state a state that quickly will turn purple and then blue after that," said Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa, the first Latino to hold that post. "This honor ... is a recognition of that."

Castro's story -- and that of his identical twin brother Joaquin, who is running for Congress -- is similar to Obama's: all three graduated from Harvard Law School and were raised by single mothers. "[Julián Castro] is young, he's highly intelligent, he's dynamic, he has a great story, and he's very well-known and respected," Hinojosa said, comparing him to the president.

While they aren't yet household names, in some ways, the Castros are outpacing the president's trajectory through the Democratic ranks. Julián Castro entered the San Antonio City Council in his mid-twenties, became mayor in his mid-thirties, and is now, at 37-years-old, among the youngest mayors of a major city. Joaquin, meanwhile, joined the Texas legislature when he was 28 and now is expected to win Rep. Charlie Gonzalez's (D-Texas) seat this November. Obama didn't win an elected office until he was 35.

Like Obama, Julián Castro has obvious draws as a convention speaker, said Mike Berman, who has helped organize six Democratic conventions -- in 1976, 1980, 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004 -- and has attended many others. Berman said that speaker selections are a joint effort between the convention organizers and the presidential campaign, although the campaign makes the final call. Neither the Obama campaign nor the convention responded to requests for comment as to how Castro ended up with the coveted gig.

Berman pointed out that the narrative of the speaker is important. The party wants it to be a story that lasts longer than night-of coverage. And the possible political appeal to voters that can ensue from that coverage is taken highly into consideration.

"There's clearly a focus in this campaign on the Latino vote, and this seems to me that the Obama campaign is saying that 'the Latino vote is important to us and we're going to showcase that vote on the three nights,' just like they do with Elizabeth Warren on the next night," Berman said. "That's kind of the play, if you will."

The Obama White House is familiar with Castro's work and popularity in Texas. He met with Obama in 2009 -- where he was jokingly asked by the president if he was an intern -- and attended the State of the Union earlier this year with First Lady Michelle Obama. Castro gave the keynote speech this year at the Texas Democratic National Convention, showing once again his prominent position statewide.

Republican strategist Mark McKinnon, a co-founder of NoLabels, said Castro could be in the White House someday himself.

"Mayor Castro has a good chance to do what one of his San Antonio predecessors Henry Cisneros could have done but did not: become the first Hispanic President of the United States," McKinnon said by email, echoing his remarks to The New York Times in 2010.

Castro told the Times then that it was "way too early to be thinking about" a run for president. Castro did not respond to a request for comment.

But Hinojosa said he could see Castro going on to run for governor in the near future.

The speech, at least, could be a springboard for his career. In a video message released Tuesday by the Democratic National Convention, Castro called the opportunity to speak "an honor I don't take lightly."

"We've come so far over the past three and a half years under Obama's leadership," he said. "And I know he's not done yet. We've got a lot more work to do."

Below are some videos of Castro's speaking style.

Castro announces he will speak at the 2012 Democratic National Convention:

Castro delivers a keynote speech at the 2012 Texas Democratic Convention, introduced by his brother, Joaquin:

Castro responds to basketball player Charles Barkley, who mocked San Antonio women:

Castro delivers 2011 address to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials conference:

Castro discusses his educational background at the TED conference:

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