INDIANOLA, Iowa — Julián Castro, who knee-capped Beto O’Rourke in the first Democratic primary debate in June, said Sunday that he called his fellow Texan to wish him well, two days after O’Rourke exited the race.
The call went to voicemail, but in the annals of thawing relations, it was a start.
“Obviously, we had our moments in this campaign,” Castro told reporters after speaking at a Democratic Party dinner here. “But I’m very, very proud of what he’s done.”
He said he told O’Rourke that he and his brother, Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), “are very big fans of his, and we look forward to working with him in the future.”
Improbably, Castro outlasted O’Rourke in the race, if only because of his willingness to remain despite bleak prospects. The former San Antonio mayor and Obama Cabinet secretary announced last week that he had raised more than $800,000 in the final 10 days of October, enough to keep him in the race. But he is running at 1 percent in the latest Morning Consult poll, and he has yet to qualify for the next presidential debate.
O’Rourke and Castro remain two of Texas’ most prominent Democrats, though O’Rourke, a former congressman from El Paso, overshadowed Castro during his near-miss Texas Senate run last year.
The nature of their relationship has been the subject of speculation. On the morning this year that O’Rourke announced his presidential run, Castro’s campaign released its own list of Texas endorsements. O’Rourke’s campaign once boasted of his polling lead over Castro in the state, and Castro blindsided O’Rourke in the June debate, tearing into him for his opposition to decriminalizing border crossings.
But Castro hasn’t shied away from criticizing other Democrats still running. Asked about South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s weak standing with black voters, Castro responded, “Just look at his track record as mayor … He has a bad track record with African Americans on the issues.”
But with O’Rourke now out of the race, Castro had only praise to offer.
“He did a real service for Democrats in Texas, and he raised great issues as a presidential candidate,” Castro said. “He only has reason to hold his head high.”
Castro said O’Rourke “inspired millions of people in Texas and across the country,” adding he has “no doubt that he has a very bright future.”
Asked if he was surprised that O’Rourke dropped out, Castro said he had heard rumors a few days beforehand.
However, he said, “I’ve heard rumors about everybody. People have heard rumors about me … It’s that time when people are making their decisions.”
His decision, he suggested, is to stay put.
“I’m staying in this race for president,” he said.
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