Julian Castro is an impressive candidate — and the establishment would be foolish to dismiss him

Democratic Party presidential contender Julian Castro recently visited The State for a candidate interview — and throughout the extended conversation it was difficult to push aside this nagging thought:

What if 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton had abandoned her insular, “worship the status quo” campaign strategy and selected Castro as her running mate (as some had urged Clinton to do)?

Could that bold move have been enough to put Clinton inside the White House — instead of sitting outside it and taking graceless potshots at its occupant, President Donald Trump?

Obviously we’ll never know.

But this is equally obvious: the strengths that Castro offered as a potential 2016 vice presidential nominee are still present now as a 2020 presidential candidate.

For example:

Castro still has a solid record of executive experience, having served three terms as a San Antonio mayor and three-plus years as secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“I am someone who has had to find common ground,” Castro said.

Castro is still a popular, high-profile Mexican American politician, putting him in prime position to be the game-changing figure capable of pushing Latino voter turnout to record levels.

“If I’m the nominee, the Latino vote will go through the roof like it never has before,” Castro said.

Castro still offers a compelling mix of youthful vibrancy (for all of his political experience, he’s merely 45 years old) and established gravitas.

For example, when Castro was asked what his administration would accomplish during its first 100 days in power, barely a beat passed before he laid out a detailed blueprint.

Castro said he would immediately sign an executive order to have the United States rejoin the Paris agreement on climate change — and largely spend his first 100 days as president issuing other executive orders aimed at “repairing the damage the Trump administration has done.”

On criminal justice reform, Castro strongly defended his view that police departments across America need to build better relationships with the minority communities they serve; Castro thinks that many police departments have become too militarized and that there should be restrictions on the use of deadly force.

“It’s not being anti-police,” Castro said regarding his position. “If anything, it’s pro-police because it’s about trying to make sure we give them the tools they need to do a better job — but also to expect better accountability.”

Clearly Castro is a thoughtful public servant.

Clearly he genuinely knows why he is running for the presidency and what he would do as president.

That said, Castro’s candidacy faces daunting challenges.

Castro must still convince skeptics that his sweeping immigration reform plan — which includes decriminalizing unauthorized border crossings and dramatically changing the focus of the U.S. Border Patrol — could realistically get through Congress (which has struggled to make even modest immigration reforms).

And while Castro believes that having a crowded field of Democratic candidates is a good thing — he thinks it will produce a savvier, tougher nominee who’s better prepared to beat Trump in the general election — it has hurt his ability to raise his relatively low poll numbers.

But make no mistake about two things:

Castro is a worthy candidate for the presidency.

Castro still has the potential to make a major impact in the Democratic race.

The political establishment would be foolish to underestimate that — or him.