Austin (KXAN) — A feud between Texans Julian Castro and Beto O’Rourke emerged on Wednesday’s nationally televised Democratic primary debate. After a successful debate performance, launching criticism at O’Rourke, Castro hopes to siphon support from O’Rourke. O’Rourke himself lauded his 2018 narrow loss for U.S. Senate.
Friday, the two candidates made campaign stops in Austin, less than a mile away and less than an hour apart. Both are contending to be the favorite son of Texas Democrats, who will vote in the March Primary.
Those votes will give the winner the second most number of primary delegates, and could eventually swing the state’s 38 electoral college votes to whichever candidate takes on President Donald Trump in November 2020.
“A few months ago they were writing me off as the other Texan in this race. Not anymore. I am the Texan in this race,” Castro said from the stage at a joint-fundraiser hosted by the Texas Democratic Party.
O’Rourke spokesman, Chris Evans, responded saying, “Well, there are two Texans, but only one has taken the time to visit each of the 254 counties of the state and only one has received more votes than any Democrat in the history of Texas while building a grassroots movement that increased young voter turnout by more than double.”
The Castro-Texas Democratic party fundraiser was planned for nearly a week; the O’Rourke event was free to attend and announced Thursday morning, and was better attended.
The emerging rivalry between the two Texas natives strains relationships between volunteers, donors, other politicians, and operatives, who used to share the same objectives but now have to fight for one candidate over the other, against each other.
Castro has a large well of allies who have helped him and his brother, Congressman Joaquin Castro, run for local and national positions before. O’Rourke’s team is centered in El Paso but expanded with a tsunami of volunteers in his statewide run against incumbent Republican Senator Ted Cruz.
Castro is the former Mayor of San Antonio and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. O’Rourke is a former El Paso Congressman and City Council Member.
O’Rourke was nearly universally looked at as the more popular, dynamic, and electable candidate, until Wednesday night when Castro delivered a sharp blow.
Castro challenged the other candidates to support his policy of decriminalizing border crossings, a major contributor to separating families at the border when crossers are arrested for the crime and split from their children, who sometimes cannot go to detention with adults.
When O’Rourke didn’t support the measure, Castro said he hadn’t done his “homework” on the issue and a public feud began. O’Rourke, instead, supported decriminalizing people seeking asylum and refuge as part of a larger rewrite of immigration laws.
“That’s actually not true,” Castro broke in on stage. “If you did your homework on this issue, you’d know we should repeal this section.”
Castro repeated that jab after the debate, alleging that other candidates, Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, from states further away from the border, knew more than O’Rourke on the issue.
“I find it very ironic that a senator from Massachusetts and a senator from New Jersey are the ones who understand this border policy and this law better than Congressman O’Rourke,” said Castro.
“He’s wrong on this one,” O’Rourke told our media partners at the Texas Tribune, “I think we have the same goal. I think he’s got it wrong on how he describes my position. I’m focused on the big picture, on making sure our laws reflect our values.”
O’Rourke’s position against decriminalizing border crossings was highlighted again Thursday when the majority of the ten other candidates on the debate’s second night raised their hand to support Castro’s policy.
The El Pasoans campaign subtly shot back, pinpointing Castro’s low poll numbers compared to O’Rourke’s. In an email blast announcing his Austin event — the same day as Castro’s — O’Rourke’s campaign noted he “had a 25-point lead over fellow Texan, Julian Castro,” according to a Change Research poll of Texans.
Friday, O’Rourke’s campaign organized his event at Scholz Garten in downtown Austin. Castro’s event was right down the street at Cheer-up-Charlies along Red River. Castro’s event was hosted by the Texas Democratic Party.
On Saturday, the two Texas natives will have events outside detention facilities: O’Rourke outside Houston’s Southwest Key, Castro outside the Department of Homeland Security facility in Clint, just down the highway from O’Rourke’s hometown of El Paso.