Meet Julián Castro's Biggest Fans: The Texas Delegates

He has yet to win over Americans, but residents of San Antonio say their young mayor is the real deal.

CHARLOTTE -- "OF COURSE!" Mildred Hilbrich roars. She's been talking calmly about her experience as a delegate to the Democratic convention, but the question -- whether her mayor, San Antonio's Julián Castro, will be the next governor of Texas -- sets her off.

Democrats hope that the entire country catches Castro fever when the 37-year-old delivers the keynote address tonight. His assigment is tough: a keynote address can launch a career (think 2004 DNC keynoter Barack Obama) or be a high point on a path back to obscurity (think about 1996 RNC keynoter Susan Molinari, on the off chance you can remember her). But it's clear that Castro inspires fierce loyalty among his current constituents.

Actually, Hilbrich's row in the Texas section was louder than any other in the Time Warner Arena; they nearly outshouted the entire Massachusetts delegation when Bay State icon Ted Kennedy was honored. The row's foreman was Renee Watson, sporting a heavily decorated cowboy hat and flanked by several other bequined older women. Watson is a rare voter more charged up about Obama's reelection than his 2008 election, and said this convention had been more fun than the 2008 one, where she was also a delegate. "We set the pace in 2008, now we've got to move the country forward," she said. And Watson couldn't wait to see Michelle Obama.

But it was clearly Castro who was the bigger draw. "He's the greatest," Hilbrich gushed. "He's an example for our young people in our community." And her hope that Castro would replace Governor Rick Perry in 2014 seemed downright modest compared to her compatriots. When asked what his next step might be, Watson said, "I hope to the state house before he goes to the White House!"

Where is Castro headed next? "I hope to the state house before he goes to the White House!"

to do that, Castro will have to excite not just Democrats but Republicans and independents. Although demographic trends suggest that Texas is becoming more Latino and more liberal in the long term, it will be years before that can shift the state's balance. State Senator Carlos Uresti, who represents San Antonio and El Paso, took a break from raving about Castro just like the rest to boast that he was ranked the most conservative Democrat in the state senate.

The younger generation of Texas Democrats -- including Castro's brother Joaquin, who is running for the U.S. House -- are a different breed from the strident example set by the last crop of Texas Democrats, from Lyndon Johnson to Ann Richards. "They've learned," Uresti said. "They listen, they observe, and they don't have a knee-jerk reaction to things."

But would that be enough to take him to the governor's mansion, or even the White House? "There's no stopping Julián Castro," Uresti said.

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David A. Graham is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he covers political and global news. He previously reported for Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, and The National.

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