- Associated Press - Friday, March 15, 2019

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Presidential candidate Julian Castro acknowledged in Las Vegas on Friday night that he’s not a front runner right now among the crowded field of Democrats while making a dig at his fellow Texan Beto O’Rourke, who jumped ahead of the pack when he entered the race this week.

Castro, speaking to about 50 people at a downtown Las Vegas bar, said he read an article earlier in the day that referred to him as “the other Texan” in the race.

“I’m the one from the other side of the tracks. I’m the one that didn’t grow up as a front runner,” said Castro, the grandson of a Mexican immigrant and former San Antonio mayor. “I’m the one that is going to work hard each and every day, if we have to crawl through all 50 states and knock on doors to get support in this race. I’m going to bring a voice of folks who also don’t feel in this country like they’re the front runner.”

Castro’s comments appeared to be a veiled allusion to a recent interview O’Rourke gave to Vanity Fair, where he said he was “just born to be in” the presidential race.

Castro, the former Obama administration Housing and Urban Development secretary, said that while he’s not a front runner, he will be by the time the Iowa caucus starts.

Unlike the rest of the pack of presidential contenders, who have concentrated their early state visits on Iowa, South Carolina and New Hampshire, Castro has made monthly visits to third-in-line Nevada this year - all before bringing his campaign to South Carolina.

Nevada’s caucus is seen as the first test of a candidate’s appeal to a diverse population as the state boasts a 29 percent Latino population.

Castro, the only Latino candidate in the race, has highlighted immigration and used his visits to Nevada to meet with Hispanic business leaders, activists and students.

He’s also highlighted his education plan for universal pre-K and moves toward “universal higher education,” a proposal to offer tuition-free public colleges.

He spoke on stage Friday night on the back patio of the bar, as young attendees nursed beers and bikers from a vintage motorcycle show just beyond the fence revved their engines, nearly drowning out his words at times.

At an appearance earlier in the day before Latino business leaders, he said the Latino community’s bilingual, ambitious young people are one of America’s best assets as it seeks to remain competitive in the world. He mingled with former Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and others before heading to a private meeting with former Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, a Democrat who is still a kingmaker in the state.

Castro also made an evening appearance at a women’s conference of the League of United Latin American Citizens, the oldest Latino civil rights organization in the U.S.

As a heavily female crowd of about 50 people sampled hors d’oeuvres and sipped cocktails wine, Castor derided the president as someone who is “using immigrants as a pinata” and ignored their contributions to society. He also jabbed at Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan, saying, “I won’t want to make America anything again. I want to make this country better than it ever has been.”

Castro said one of the moments he most looks forward to if he wins the presidency would be when he’d watch Trump leave the White House for the last time.

“Right before he walks off, just as he’s about to leave,” Castro said, “I’m going to tell him: ‘Adios.’”

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