If you’re not from Iowa, here’s what you might not expect: it’s not unusual for a non-rock star candidate to have events in coffee shops or book stores or at the house of a supporter. So, I was not surprised to see that Julián Castro, former Obama HUD secretary and San Antonio mayor, was having a pre-announcement event at someone’s house near Cedar Rapids.
There is a charm in these smaller meet-and-greets that make running for President seem a little bit more like trying to get elected to City Council. If nothing else, it was sure to be a different experience from the big Elizabeth Warren launch we had just gone to. Nic and I drove down hoping the GPS would be able to get us to a house on Lois Lane, and I was all ready to go with Superman jokes if necessary.
We found the house easily enough and saw cars lined up on both sides of a wooded exurban street. When we got to the house, we realized we were just supposed to open the door and walk in. We did. I was expecting to be besieged by a staffer doing everything legally possible to obtain my email address, but this was much more laid back. A crowd of about 30 people were just milling around the first floor. There was a nice spread of snacks. It felt like going to a neighborhood holiday party except there were a half-dozen TV cameras pointing at a spot in front of the living room bookcase.
Nic and I looked around for good sight lines. Fortunately, it was an open concept layout, and we were able to get a decent view over the cameras from the kitchen. Now, Iowa may not be the largest state, but if you’re an hour from home in a stranger’s kitchen, you are not going to know anyone. Nic and I hung together, exchanging some small talk about the cameras with people next to us. We were far enough out of the city that I couldn’t get a phone signal. I wrote a bunch of Facebook posts that began piling up in a queue.
I was ready for another long wait before the candidate actually spoke, but this event ran pretty close to schedule. Julián Castro swept in through the front door, shook some hands on his way through the dining room, and found his mark in front of the bookcase. He was dressed in standard “candidate casual” with an open collar shirt that was only slightly more formal than the rest of us (Iowa’s “come as you are” fashion will have to be the subject of a future post).
Castro was an engaging guy, and he combined details of his family’s personal story with policy issues. We found out that he was born 10 minutes before his twin brother, U. S. Rep. Joachim Castro. He seemed much more interested in talking about being a mayor than a HUD secretary. Like Warren, he made a point of hammering home issues about the minimum wage.
It was a crowd of political junkies, so we would have been happy to listen for quite a while, but he kept it short and took a bunch of questions. I was able to ask the last one, which Nic recorded, so I can link to it here. It’s only about 3 ½ minutes. Don’t worry, I’ll wait for you.
We stuck around for pictures. I appreciated that Castro understood everyone was candidate shopping, and he wasn’t going to ask us to sign on to a campaign that wasn’t even going to be official until next weekend. We grabbed our jackets. I felt like we should have searched around for the people who lived there and said thanks, the way you would if you’d been invited to a party, but they were in a different room and we had an hour to drive. We walked out into the quiet night, got in the car and drove until we got phone service. Okay, that was not such a big deal. It only took five minutes. I debated making a joke about kryptonite jamming my phone while we were at Lois Lane, but if Julián Castro could get through the whole night without a Superman joke, so could I.