BRADENTON -- If Hillary Clinton is looking for a running mate, she may have received some advice Sunday afternoon in Sarasota.
Julian Castro, the nation's secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and House Majority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., were special guests of the Sarasota County Democratic Party. They were invited to discuss a large range of issues with the party faithful at the annual Kennedy-King Dinner at the Hyatt Regency Sarasota.
During a discussion with the media before the dinner began, campaign topics came up, and Castro, a rising star in the Democratic Party, was asked point blank about potential political aspirations.
Asked by a reporter if he might soon receive a call from the party's most prominent Democrat, he was a bit coy.
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"No, I fully intend to be back in Texas next year," Castro said.
Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House of Representatives who was standing a few feet from Castro in the hotel, quickly added, "He is not necessarily in the majority on that thought. He would be a wonderful vice president. That is not an endorsement, just an observation."
Because of Sarasota County Democratic Party Chairwoman Christine Jennings' long friendship with Hoyer, Sarasota lured the prominent Democratic to come to its dinner. As a bonus, Hoyer called up Castro and got him to come, too.
Hoyer was not alone in his confidence in Castro as a potential vice president.
"I think he's ridiculously ready for the job," Sarasota's Linda Poteat-Brown said of Castro. "I think the mixture of the two of them, he and Hillary, would be phenomenal for the country."
Jennings acknowledged the electricity in the hotel was partially due to the charisma of Castro, a Mexican-American who was mayor of his native San Antonio, Texas, before being selected by President Barack Obama to join his Cabinet as the secretary of HUD on July 28, 2014.
People were lined up to have their picture taken with Castro, who seemed to actually enjoy it.
"You know he is so sincere," Jennings said of Castro. "He is so humble. He is so nice. We picked him up today at the airport. He is just pleasant and down to earth. We adore him."
Wearing a Democratic-blue pantsuit, Jennings, who ran for the U.S. Congress in 2006 and lost to incumbent Vern Buchanan, has been the leader of Sarasota Democrats for a little more than a year, and she was kissing cheeks everywhere she went in the hotel.
She was beaming that the attendance for the dinner hit 750 Sarasota Democrats this year. Last year, 635 attended, she said.
The crowd was expected to dine on what Jennings called, "upscale Democratic chicken," prepared by the Hyatt staff, and would get to listen to both Hoyer and Castro.
"This is a young man, he and his twin brother, who had no opportunities in life at all, Jennings said of Castro. "No family money, no family contacts, and yet he graduated from Stanford and Harvard. You have to be pretty smart to make it through Stanford and Harvard and to rise to the position of mayor of San Antonio and have his city rated A-plus, And then to become secretary of HUD."
While talking to the media, Castro eagerly talked about Clinton, whom he has endorsed. He said her victory in South Carolina on Saturday will now give her the momentum to sweep toward the party nomination. But Castro also handled a tougher question about heroin and opioids. Manatee County is among the hardest hit communities in the nation by the opioid epidemic.
"I am so pleased that candidates across the political spectrum are addressing this issue of opioid use because it impacts folks up and down the income scale," Castro said. "It's not just in big cities but small towns and tribal communities, throughout the United States.
"My hope is that we will move forward in the United States with an emphasis on being proactive and focusing on treatment instead of being punitive," Castro added. "If we can do that I think we will find that more individuals are able to avoid dependence or use in the first place and secondly you are going to give folks an effective second chance in life and that is what this entire criminal justice reform is about, making sure people have an effective second chance in life. That is what our country is about,"
Party members paid $125 to come to the dinner but, "to be a sponsor cost 500 dollars and way up," Jennings added.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter@RichardDymond.