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Seeking Unity, Texas Democrats Set Sights on Trump as Common Enemy

Texas Democrats are pinning their hopes on Trump’s divisiveness among Republicans to propel themselves to an unlikely November victory.

Julián Castro gives the keynote speech at the Texas Democratic Convention at the Alamodome on June 17, 2016.

SAN ANTONIO — Presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is "Frankenstein’s monster," a "racist," "the Joker" — and an opportunity to turn Texas blue, according to optimistic Texas Democrats gathered at their party’s convention in San Antonio this weekend.

Despite the divergent factions of supporters donning either Hillary Clinton T-shirts or Bernie Sanders pins, it is Trump’s name that has become a battlecry for beleaguered Texas Democrats, whose leaders hope to present a unified force against him in November.

"The only person Donald Trump really cares about is Donald Trump," said U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro, in a speech that predicted Clinton would carry Texas in the November election. "So this much is clear — he’s not even behaving like a decent human being, much less a good public servant."

Castro, like several other speakers, started with strong praise for Sanders and pivoted to a full-throated endorsement of Clinton for president. He has been mentioned frequently as a potential running mate for Clinton but told reporters on Friday that her campaign was not vetting him for the job.

Conventioneers are pinning their hopes on Trump’s divisiveness among Republicans to propel Democrats to an unlikely victory in a state whose politics run blood red. In earlier remarks, Castro's twin brother Joaquin, a U.S. congressman from San Antonio, told the story of his grandmother's immigration from Mexico as a way of criticizing Trump.

"My grandmother was not a murderer or a rapist," he said, referring to previous comments from Trump about Mexican immigrants. "My grandmother was a six-year-old girl."

The prospect of a Democratic presidential candidate winning Texas, which has not happened since Jimmy Carter’s run in 1976, is slim enough that even Clinton ally Garry Mauro recently said the state was “not a battleground.”

Still, Trump affords Texas Democrats a catalyst for optimism — unfounded or not — and they appeared overwhelmingly optimistic at the blue-themed convention, where a Mariachi band took the stage before headlining speakers.

Some supporters wore shirts referring to a wall proposed by Trump to be built along the U.S.-Mexico border, directing the Republican candidate to take his wall and “shove it," a reference to incendiary anti-Trump remarks penned in a recent letter by U.S. Congressman Filemon Vela, of Brownsville, who on Friday took the stage for a speech urging his party to rally behind Clinton.

“I congratulate Senator Bernie Sanders and his supporters for his inspirational and hard-fought campaign,” Vela said. “You have energized the American electorate, and for that the entire Democratic Party thanks you.”

The convention took place against the backdrop of Trump's two-day visit to the Lone Star State for a series of fundraisers and rallies.

At a news conference criticizing Trump’s stay, state Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, compared the Republican nominee to “Frankenstein’s monster,” while Texas Democratic Party chairman Gilberto Hinojosa lamented that the state’s Republican leadership “would rather support a racist than Hillary Clinton.”

Joaquin Castro said at a separate press conference that Texas Republicans had “laid the groundwork” for Trump’s ascendancy “by moving so far to the right that they’ve left the average Texan behind.”

“What you see here tonight is a unified Democratic party, unified to elect Hillary Clinton as the first female president of the United States,” he said.

But in the bowels of the Alamodome stadium near downtown San Antonio, Democratic voters who gathered for the convention appeared less unified than their party leaders’ optimism suggested.

Meeting rooms full of attendees holding bright blue Bernie Sanders signs seemed to indicate that the Democratic Party here still has work to do if it hopes to present a unified anti-Trump force in November.

Julianne Gustafson-Lira, a Sanders supporter from Houston who chuckled when she described herself as a “70-year-old millennial,” said she remained unsure she would support Clinton in the general election. She said she was concerned that young Texans would feel alienated from the Democratic Party under a Clinton nomination.

“You see a whole lot of people here that are very old,” Gustafson-Lira said. “The young people are upset. I myself have gotten very disheartened over the years.”

Down the hall, Eugene Oehler, a Hillary Clinton supporter from Fort Worth, nonetheless said he felt a general sense of unity among Democrats at the convention.

Still, he said he felt some anxiety that Sanders supporters would not come to support Clinton in November.

“It’s a bit of a concern for me,” Oehler said. “I hope that they can see the light.”

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Politics Texas Democratic Party