If the Joaquín Castro and Lloyd Doggett competition for the 35th Congressional District of Texas were a boxing match, Castro would inevitably be the young, up-and-coming fighter, all heart, hungry and willing to do whatever it takes to win. Doggett, on the other hand, would be the seasoned veteran, comfortable with his record, previously unbeaten and yet to have faced a challenger that can really make him fear losing his title.
Or something like that.
The future of Texas, according to 2010 Census results and population projections, is going to be a young, Latino state. Consequently, the conversation about this contest has already begun to swirl around race, even by commenters on this website — Latino voters will undoubtedly vote for a Latino candidate, Castro will win because of his race, Doggett shouldn’t be challenged at all — but the reality of race in this contest is much more nuanced. In many ways, Castro represents the future of the state, while Doggett represents the past. Either way, this will be one of the most heavily watched Democratic primaries in the country.
As the wheels on the 2012 campaign machine begin to turn, a litany of issues that affect the residents of the 35th district — which runs from South Austin through Seguin to San Antonio — will be boiled down to easily edible, small, and narrow issues. Both Doggett and Castro are Democrats, therefore the bread-and-butter issues of immigration reform, healthcare and the economy and are just about the same for either candidate. This race then, based on the current redistricting map which may be changed in court, will be decided in the March primary since it’s a Democratic district. And it will be issues other than these that make or break our contenders.
While Castro a young, well-educated Latino with hometown advantage in the 35th, about half of which lies in San Antonio, Doggett is an Austin native and has served that area since he began his career in Texas public service as a state senator in 1973. Castro has led a storied life, growing up in the West side of San Antonio, the on to Stanford and Harvard Universities before returning to his hometown shortly thereafter. Doggett has been a fixture in state politics for years, bending and growing with the state as it changed over time.
Castro, whose famous twin brother Julián is currently serving his second term as San Antonio mayor, has been serving in the state house (precisely in his hometown of San Antonio) since 2003. He’s made himself into an education candidate, currently serving as the Vice-Chair of the Higher Education Committee. As we look to the future of the state of Texas, what we see is an increasingly Latino population, a young population that will need education, and in the 35th in particular, a community that has needs often different from those of what has been Doggett’s district.
Joaquín Castro has been headed down this path for most of his life, barreling toward the future, a young man not only focused and hardworking, but determined to be prepared to meet the challenges along that road. As part of a new emerging political dynasty, Castro is well aware of what it will take to beat an established candidate like Doggett, as is his San Antonio machine. Considering this race, post-2010 Census and during an economic recovery, is really about where San Antonio sees itself in the future, how the seventh-largest city in the country — one that foretells in many ways the future of the U.S. — will evolve, and in what particular ways that evolution will touch the people in the 35th.
One thing’s for certain, while race is certain to be some sort of a factor in this election, it would be a mistake to underestimate the people of the 35th as being so shallow: Latinos vote for Latinos. Like people in the rest of the country, the voters in this district have families, jobs, health problems, educational concerns, it’s a military city, so there are veterans, active military and a slew of other issues affecting people in this district. The question, ultimately, is whether it will be Castro or Doggett who can best fight for the residents of the 35th, and only the voters themselves will have the answer.
Follow Sara Inés Calderón on Twitter @SaraChicaD