Julián Castro launches exploratory committee for possible 2020 White House bid

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro moved closer to a 2020 presidential run on Wednesday, announcing that he had set up an exploratory committee to test the waters for a potential bid.

"Americans are ready to climb out of this darkness. We're ready to keep our promises, and we're not going to wait. We're going to work," Castro said in a video statement posted on a website for the committee.

"That's why I'm exploring a candidacy for president of the United States in 2020."

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Castro, 44, said he would spend "the next several weeks" traveling across the country as he feels out support for a potential White House bid. He said plans to make a decision on Jan. 12 in his home state of Texas.

The exploratory committee, Julián for the Future, is the clearest signal yet that he is likely to seek the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020. 

Such committees allow prospective presidential contenders to begin raising money ahead of a formal declaration of candidacy. 

The early formation of the exploratory committee could give Castro a crucial head start in a potentially crowded Democratic primary field that could include political heavyweights like former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden campaign slams Trump's Rose Garden event as 'sad affair' New shutdowns add to Trump woes CNN cuts away from Trump's 'campaign-type' Rose Garden speech MORE

So far, the only Democrat who has declared a 2020 White House run is Rep. John DelaneyJohn DelaneyCoronavirus Report: The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews Rep. Rodney Davis Eurasia Group founder Ian Bremmer says Trump right on China but wrong on WHO; CDC issues new guidance for large gatherings The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas says country needs to rethink what 'policing' means; US cases surpass 2 million with no end to pandemic in sight MORE (D-Md.), who has been campaigning for nearly a year and a half.

A handful of other would-be Democratic candidates have generated immense buzz, including another Texan: Rep. Beto O'RourkeBeto O'RourkeHegar, West to face off in bitter Texas Senate runoff Bellwether counties show trouble for Trump Colorado GOP Rep. Scott Tipton defeated in primary upset MORE (D). 

O'Rourke emerged as a rising star in Democratic politics this year with his high-profile, though ultimately unsuccessful, Senate bid to unseat Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzMJ Hegar wins Democratic battle to challenge John Cornyn The Hill's Campaign Report: Key races take shape in Alabama, Texas, Maine 5 key races to watch on Tuesday MORE (R-Texas). But that campaign helped him build an extensive network of donors and volunteers that would come in handy should he decide to mount a run for the White House.

Other possible contenders include Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden aspires to become America's auto-pen president Progressive Mondaire Jones wins NY primary to replace Nita Lowey OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden pledges carbon-free power by 2035 in T environment plan | Trump administration has been underestimating costs of carbon pollution, government watchdog finds | Trump to move forward with rollback of bedrock environmental law MORE (I-Vt.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenProgressive Mondaire Jones wins NY primary to replace Nita Lowey Dunford withdraws from consideration to chair coronavirus oversight panel Biden campaign announces second round of staff hires in Arizona MORE (D-Mass.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisHillicon Valley: Facebook considers political ad ban | Senators raise concerns over civil rights audit | Amazon reverses on telling workers to delete TikTok Senators raise concerns over Facebook's civil rights audit Biden's marijuana plan is out of step with public opinion MORE (D-Calif.) and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: California backtracks on reopening as cases soar nationwide; SoapBox CEO David Simnick says nimble firms can work around supply chain chokepoints to access supplies for sanitizers and hygienic materials In politics, as in baseball, it ain't over till it's over Democrats blast Trump for commuting Roger Stone: 'The most corrupt president in history' MORE (D-N.J.).

Castro, who at one point was considered a possible running mate for 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocrat Dana Balter to face Rep. John Katko in NY House rematch GOP lawmaker: Don't believe polls showing Trump behind Biden Kyle Van De Water wins New York GOP primary to challenge Rep. Antonio Delgado MORE, has said for months that he is considering a run for president, but he hasn't garnered the same national attention as the likes of O'Rourke and some other Democrats.

In an interview with The Associated Press published Wednesday, the former San Antonio mayor suggested that he is likely to launch a campaign for the White House, saying that he knows "where I'm leaning, for sure."

He also said he's not worried about the buzz other potential Democratic contenders are generating, noting that it's still too early to determine which would-be candidates will emerge as the front-runner. 

"It doesn't bother me that in December of 2018 I'm not right up at the top of the list," he told the AP. "If I decide to run, it would be because I believe I have a compelling message and I'm going to work hard and get to the voters and I believe I can be successful."

Castro’s announcement drew a sharp response from the Republican National Committee, which panned the former HUD secretary as an unqualified presidential contender.

“There’s arguably no bigger lightweight in the 2020 field than Julian Castro,” said RNC spokesman Michael Ahrens. His mayoral job was largely ceremonial, he was in totally over his head at HUD, and no, he doesn’t even know Spanish.”

Castro has said he understands Spanish, but does not speak the language fluently.

Castro will appear on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” alongside his brother, Rep. Joaquin CastroJoaquin Castro70 progressive groups call for next Foreign Affairs chair to reflect 'progressive realism' Steyer endorses Markey in Massachusetts Senate primary Hispanic Caucus formally endorses George Floyd Justice in Policing Act MORE (D-Texas), to discuss his possible presidential plans on Thursday.

-- Updated 12:00 p.m.