It was impossible to walk even a few feet on the campus of Texas Southern University this week in Houston, Texas without hearing some exasperated out-of-town reporter remark: My god, it’s hot.
Houstonians are, of course, accustomed to weather in the 90s in mid-September. But perhaps some of the hottest takes in the wear-sunblock-or-else weather happened Thursday night on the debate stage, as the gloves came off between the top ten Democratic primary candidates.
“Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago?” decried former HUD Secretary Julián Castro to former Veep Joe Biden in front of a shocked crowd. The conversation centered on Biden’s healthcare goals of expanding on Obamacare into a Medicare-like public option.
Castro’s blows continued one after the other, marking the hottest exchanges on the Democratic primary debate stage yet. The attention shifted to the legacy of former President Barack Obama, an administration that saw Biden as VP and Castro as a cabinet member.
“If you lose your job for instance, [Biden’s] health care plan would not automatically enroll you, you would have to opt in. My health care plan would,” Castro told the sold-out TSU crowd. “That’s a big difference. I’m fulfilling the legacy of Barack Obama and you’re not.”
This reporter has often noted that whomever emerges from this primary will undoubtedly be bruised, battered, and bloodied after surviving a two-dozen-plus free-for-all over a historically long election. And the debate this week showed that everything, in fact, is bigger in Texas... including the political takedowns.
But despite the controversy surrounding Castro’s high heat — or accusations that the former Secretary was going after Biden’s age — the campaign itself downplayed any sense of foul play.
“It’s interesting. I know some people think, ‘Oh did you go after him? Were you implying something about him?’ That’s not the case at all,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro, Julián’s twin brother and chair of his presidential campaign, to me in the spin room late Thursday.
“If you’ll notice at these debates what my brother has done is that he stood up for issues that he cared about,” invoking a tough exchange with Beto O’Rourke on immigration at a previous debate. “He respects the Vice President, a great deal,” the Congressman added.
In the spin room, the Castro camp may have sought to cool down a scorching-hot performance, but the properly-functioning AC was the only thing able to keep people from sweating. Castro’s singes against Biden were the talk of the spin room and the post-debate-drinks; and while not everyone was in favor of the scorched-earth approach (former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel called Castro “mean”), the undeniable fact remains for his low-to-mid tier campaign: for good or for bad, everyone is talking about Castro today, which is more than can be said for previous debate performances.