The New 2020 Trend: Donating to Candidates You Won’t Vote For

Worried the next presidential debate will be too white, backers of Elizabeth Warren are giving to Julian Castro to keep his campaign alive

Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro at CNN’s presidential town hall on October 10, 2019. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty

Julián Castro has a plea to voters: Help him raise $800,000 by October 31, or he will be forced to drop out of the Democratic presidential primary. The former Housing and Urban Development secretary says that without this funding, his campaign won’t be able to meet the polling cut-off for the next debate, on November 20. Castro, whose bid is a long shot to begin with, argues that losing his spot on the debate stage would make it unlikely that his campaign continues into the Iowa caucuses in February.

This isn’t the first time Castro’s campaign has warned the end could be near. (Desperate quarterly fundraising emails are their own political institution by now because they work.) Nevertheless, his plea elicited a rush of small donations — including some from people who say they have no interest in voting for him.

“My preferred candidate is Cory Booker,” says Lee Jolliffe, a journalism professor at Drake University in Iowa who says she’s donated around $40 to the Castro campaign. (Full information about donations this quarter won’t be available until January.) “But I want Julián in the race, I want his voice on the stage for the debate. It’s wildly important to hear a voice that represents 20% of our population.”

Castro is the only Latino in the race and one just six candidates of color running for president. Some of them, like Sen. Kamala Harris and entrepreneur Andrew Yang, have also trailed in the polls but have more impressive war chests and thus should be able to carry on their campaigns well into the foreseeable future. That has not been the case for Castro. But even though he has struggled to stand out on the national stage, for some voters, his continued presence is meaningful in and of itself.

“I’m supporting Elizabeth Warren and have for a while,” says Lauren Rankin, a New York-based writer. “I donated to Kirsten Gillibrand at the beginning because I thought she deserved to be on the stage. I also donated to Julián Castro. I think it’s obviously important to have diversity, especially [when it comes to] race and gender identity.”

Rankin says that diversity was not the only reason she donated to his campaign. (She declined to disclose her donation amount.)

“What he’s saying — his perspective, his policy proposals, and his solidly progressive stance — is vital,” she says. She’s been particularly impressed with his approach on reproductive rights issues. “He has called for the end for the Hyde Amendment, a discriminatory ban on federal funding for abortion that disproportionally impacts women of color and low-income women, and he has used gender-inclusive language when talking about abortion,” she says. “He’s centering marginalized people as the reason we need politics. He’s not trying to appeal to major donors and billionaires.”

It’s no surprise that voters are trying to keep candidates of color — even those who hold little chance of getting the party’s nomination — in the primary race, says one political scientist.

“There’s a real, detectable trend in the Democratic Party right now for diversity,” says Michael Miller, a professor at Barnard College in New York. “The three largely acknowledged front-runners in this race are all white and on the older side of the age spectrum. In supporting these other candidates, voters have listened to that instinct, to preference diversity.”

“Having Castro on that stage forces people to have a real answer about immigration in a way that would not happen if it was all white people talking to each other.”

In issuing a more desperate call for donations, Castro has followed in the footsteps of Sen. Cory Booker, who announced in late September that he needed to raise an additional $1.7 million by the end of the month or otherwise he would need to drop out. Some have criticized this approach as a gimmick, but it’s hard to argue with Booker’s results: Around 46,000 donors brought in $2.1 million to his campaign.

“The internet has been a great equalizer,” Miller says. “Small donors have become much more important. It’s much easier for these campaigns to identify them and raise money.”

Voters who’ve donated to Castro’s campaign say that as long as he and other candidates of color make it to the debate stage, it’s worth it for the different perspectives they bring to the national conversation.

“Having Castro on that stage forces people to have a real answer about immigration in a way that would not happen if it was all white people talking to each other,” says Claire Willet, a playwright in Oregon who says she makes a recurring donation of $25 to Castro’s campaign even though Sen. Elizabeth Warren is her top candidate. “We need those conversations around race in the public eye, too. The point of the primary is for us to aggressively and vigorously vet all of these people.”

Castro has pushed his rivals on the issue of immigration; he was the first candidate to propose on a debate stage that the U.S. stop criminally prosecuting immigrants who enter into the country without papers. He’s also one of the few candidates that has consistently spoken about issues such as police violence or how abortion access is not only a woman’s issue. That has gained him the support of people who will not vote for him, but would like him to continue on in the race. (His campaign did not respond to requests for comment.)

There’s a case to be made that the field of candidates is too crowded and that, eventually, those who are struggling in the polls and with fundraising need to drop out. But voters like Elizabeth Lorraine Mitchell, a community organizer in Minnesota who says she’s donated $10 to the Castro campaign, reject the notion that he or any other minority candidates should be the first to go.

“I understand that, but it doesn’t have to be them,” she says. “We have other white people polling at the same level as [Castro] and we don’t hear the same number of people telling them they need to drop out. I’m in Minnesota and Amy Klobuchar is from Minnesota, but does not have a strong presence here. I don’t hear people nationally saying she needs to go.”

“With white candidates, I don’t hear the same criticism than when Julián says, ‘Hey, I need money or I’ll need to drop out,’” says Mitchell, who says she’s also donating to Warren, her preferred candidate. “I think it’s nice that he’s being honest about it.”

Honesty may not deliver Castro the White House, but it could at least keep his voice in the public sphere a bit longer.

Journalist covering politics, elections, immigration, feminism, and more. Puertorriqueña.

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