Far away from his native Texas on Saturday, Julián Castro was greeted by a familiar sign from home.
A woman who donned a University of Texas at San Antonio T-shirt approached the 44-year-old former mayor of San Antonio. A mother of a UTSA graduate, she beckoned Castro for a photo, throwing up the famous Texan hand sign.
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"You know, I have to say, I felt at home coming in, walking in, and there's a (UTSA) shirt," Castro said to a jovial crowd of 70 door-knockers that amassed in the front office of the Webster County Democrats' headquarters to support J.D. Scholten, a candidate for Iowa's 4th Congressional District.
This was the second trip to Iowa since August for Castro, a former housing and urban development secretary in the Obama administration. Officially, it's one of his many stops across the country to rally Democrats in an effort to flip the House and possibly the Senate back to blue, but Castro's visit once again stoked speculation that he, too, would join a plethora of politicos thought to become possible 2020 contenders.
This month, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker finished his first swing through the Hawkeye State, and fellow Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris of California is set to make her entrance into the Iowa field this week. Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, who fell short of the Democratic nomination in 2016, will stump in the state next week.
But as with almost every other potential Democratic contender, Castro kept his message trained on 2018 and said he won't decide on his political future until the midterms are over.
"What can you say about the last 18 months except than it's been absolutely crazy, and it does not reflect the values of our country," Castro said Saturday while stumping for Scholten. "We have the opportunity to make history and set the country in the right direction. And all of that starts with y'all, and making sure people actually get out there and vote."
Standing 6 feet 6 inches tall, Scholten, who coincidentally says he's lagging only 6 percentage points behind in a district that has elected his opponent, Republican Rep. Steve King, eight times, urged the canvassers to use their "pent up frustration" from the 2016 presidential election and channel it into votes to push him into office.
"This race is going to come down to razor-thin margins," Scholten said. "Everything I see out there, everything I see in the polls, everything I see in my gut. it's going to come down to minimal votes. So that door knock, that engagement with folks. It's precious."
While supporting Cindy Axne, a candidate in Iowa's 3rd Congressional District, on Friday, Castro said, "I'm in Iowa helping candidates that are on the 2018 ballot. I'm not going to make a decision about the future until after this election because all of our attention needs to be focused on 2018."
Speaking in 40-degree weather on a gray Iowa day to a crowd of more than 50 volunteers, a coat-less Castro joked how his southern origins left him unprepared for fall in the Midwest.
"I'm from Texas, so I apologize, I didn't even bring a sweater today because it was 80 degrees where I was," he said. "I was a little bit of a dumb Texan today. I'll get better, don't worry."
Sounding like a 2020 contender, Castro introduced himself as a product of a single working-class grandmother, mother and public-school education.
"We felt like we lived our American dream. All of us have our American dream," Castro said. "We were able to do that and get the education we had because there were things like Pell grants and Perkins loans, and there was federal work studies. ... This country has been at its greatest when it's willing to invest in people, no matter what their background is or how much money their folks have or don't have."
Still, Castro says any decision about plunging into the presidential waters will hinge on his where his family and his country stand.
"This is a big commitment, and if I were to make it, I want to make sure for my family and for me that it makes sense," Castro said. "I want to get a sense of where the country is in November because I believe these elections set a mood, set a tone for the next four years."
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