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In Iowa, Castro Questions Sanders' Commitment to Latino Community

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, questioned Sunday whether U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has done enough to engage the Latino community in his presidential bid.

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, speaks to a group of Hillary Clinton supporters at a campaign event held at the home of Mark and Sharon Naughton in Iowa City on Aug. 30, 2015.

*Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

DES MOINES, Iowa — U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, stumping here Sunday for Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton, questioned her chief primary opponent's commitment to the Latino community, saying U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders has "hardly at all" reached out to the growing voting bloc. 

"I want to say this in all frankness. I didn't come here to knock any of the candidates, but Sen. Sanders has not reached out to the Hispanic caucus in Congress, has not reached out to me. I've never met the gentleman. [He] has not visited Texas or the Rio Grande Valley," Castro, a San Antonio Democrat, said during a stop at a Mexican restaurant here where an Iowan asked him to assess the Democratic candidates and their relationships with the Latino community.

"That's a bit of a concern," Castro added.

Castro clarified Monday he was specifically referring to Sanders visiting predominantly Hispanic communities in Texas. In July, Sanders held rallies in Dallas and Houston that drew thousands of supporters. 

Castro went on to suggest Sanders, a Vermont independent running for president as a Democrat, has been missing in action as some Republican candidates — including bomb-throwing businessman Donald Trump — have intensified their attacks on people in the country illegally. Earlier in the event, Castro said Latinos "have become a piñata" in the 2016 race. 

"This campaign's been going on for a while already, and I know he's been very busy and I respect that," Castro said of Sanders. "I respect him a lot, but this community matters and especially in this moment, this moment when the community's getting kicked around, it concerns me that there hasn't been any outreach, hardly at all. And I'll just leave it at that."

Sanders' campaign pushed back Monday on Castro's criticism.

"The assertion that Sen. Sanders has not spoken out about Trump or on Latino issues is incorrect," Sanders spokesman Michael Briggs said in an email, pointing out that the senator strongly criticized the real estate mogul as recently as Friday at the Democratic National Committee's summer meeting in Minneapolis.  

Asked about Castro's comments Monday on MSNBC, Sanders spoke of the growth of his campaign, which he said he launched in April as the "real underdog in this race." 

"We have made huge progress, but we have a long, long way to go, and I will not deny to you for one minute that we have to substantially increase our outreach to the Latino community and to the African American community," Sanders said. 

Speaking with reporters earlier Sunday in Marshalltown, Iowa, Castro downplayed polls that have shown Sanders narrowing Clinton's lead, including a Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register survey released a day earlier that found him trailing her by only 7 percentage points in Iowa. Castro attributed the movement to the normal rhythms of a presidential contest.

"It's a competitive race," Castro said, adding that no Democratic nominee for president has ever won by 30 points, alluding to Clinton's onetime polling advantage. "This is just historically what happens. Races become tighter."

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Politics 2016 elections Joaquin Castro