Presidential candidate Julián Castro speaks to attendees of the TNDP Elevate summit at MTSU Sunday. Photo by Ashley Benkarski

By Ashley Benkarski

MURFREESBORO, TN — Presidential hopeful Julián Castro delivered the closing remarks to the crowd at the Tennessee Democratic Party’s Elevate summit that took place last weekend at MTSU’s Student Union Building, saying he’d like to be able to tell the Trump administration “Ádios” upon their departure from the White House.

“I don’t want to make this country anything ‘again,’” Castro said. “I want to go forward … with one exception: I want to restore integrity and decency to the Oval Office.” His first act would be to sign an executive order to recommit the country to the Paris agreement on climate change, he said, and also noted as a priority the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, calling recent anti-abortion legislation “a coordinated attack on Roe v. Wade.” 

Taking place over three days, the summit featured panels and workshops focused on networking and educating aspiring candidates about voter outreach and best practices for running a campaign. U.S. Senate candidate James Mackler, who’s running for Lamar Alexander’s seat in the 2020 election, and DNC member Marisa Richmond delivered presentations to attendees.

“I felt that the Elevate event was a great event,” said Finis Dailey, a Davidson Co. native who decided to run for city council in his Bordeaux community just last week. “It was good to see the state Democratic Party looking to cultivate the energy that we are feeling from the prospects of turning a once-crimson red state to a deep shade of purple.” He pointed to a presentation of Matt Hildreth that focused on rural outreach, a tactic often ignored by politicians that has left many rural residents jaded with the political process. But those communities are more progressive than most people think, Dailey noted, “as long as they don’t lose the coziness of community.”

Castro isn’t the latest 2020 presidential candidate to visit the Volunteer State– former VP Joe Biden came to Nashville Monday for his campaign fundraiser. Biden’s campaign failed to reach out to anyone in the TNDP prior to its fundraising event and that’s problematic, said chairwoman Mary Mancini, expressing disappointment. Though Castro and Biden seem polar opposites–the former is 44 years old and Latinx, the latter is 76 and white–they both believe defeating Trump in 2020 is paramount. 

But it isn’t enough to just beat Trump. With the Democrats needing to gain at least three Senate seats for control in the chamber, the party must focus on getting Mackler into Sen. Alexander’s seat. To do that, Democrats will have to make the same effort of engaging rural communities as it does urban ones. Mancini plans to meet voters “where they are” and be present in every community with a message of inclusivity, a value she says Tennesseans share despite the discriminatory “Slate of Hate” legislation making its way through the state’s chambers.

“All of that to me is just trying to undermine the separation of church and state; trying to legislate morality, passing judgment on people’s personal lives,” said DNC member Marisa Richmond. “That’s not the role of government and we as Democrats are trying to stand up against that.” 

Her focus right now is on local races and the presidential election next year. “I think it’s important that we do win and put somebody not just in the White House, but we retake the Senate so we have more control over the judicial process,” she said, adding that she’s optimistic about Mackler’s run as long as he has the needed support.

For anyone considering running for elected office, Richmond has a message: “If you’ve said to yourself, ‘I can do better,’ get out there! We need you!”