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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 BidenMcCarthy says he told Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene he disagreed with her impeachment articles against Biden Biden, Trudeau agree to meet next month Fauci infuriated by threats to family 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'RourkeBoebert appears to carry gun on Capitol Hill in new ad 7 surprise moments from a tumultuous year in politics Mexican president breaks with other world leaders, refusing to acknowledge Biden win until election is finalized 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 CruzEthics complaint filed against Biggs, Cawthorn and Gosar over Capitol riot Hawley, Cruz see approval ratings dip in wake of Capitol riot: poll For Biden, a Senate trial could aid bipartisanship around COVID relief 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 SandersThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Next steps in the Trump impeachment Sanders selling sweatshirts with his famous inauguration pose for charity Former Sanders spokesperson: Biden 'backing away' from 'populist offerings' MORE (I-Vt.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden's Interior Department temporarily blocks new drilling on public lands | Group of GOP senators seeks to block Biden moves on Paris, Keystone | Judge grants preliminary approval for 0M Flint water crisis settlement Senate approves waiver for Biden's Pentagon nominee House approves waiver for Biden's Pentagon nominee MORE (D-Mass.), Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisSenators introduce bill to award Officer Goodman the Congressional Gold Medal An ally in the White House is good for abortion access, but not enough LeBron James says 'it would be great' for champion Lakers to visit Biden White House MORE (D-Calif.) and Cory BookerCory BookerDemocrats seek answers on impact of Russian cyberattack on Justice Department, Courts Senate confirms Biden's intel chief, giving him first Cabinet official Booker brings girlfriend, actress Rosario Dawson, to inauguration MORE (D-N.J.).

Castro, who at one point was considered a possible running mate for 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTexas Supreme Court rejects Alex Jones request to toss lawsuits from Sandy Hook parents Paris Agreement: Biden's chance to restore international standing Samantha Power's Herculean task: Turning a screw with a rubber screwdriver 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 CastroSunday shows preview: Washington prepares for an inauguration and impeachment; coronavirus surges across the US Pelosi names 9 impeachment managers Lawmaker to unveil bill ensuring nothing — 'no airport, no highway, no school' — is named after Trump MORE (D-Texas), to discuss his possible presidential plans on Thursday.

-- Updated 12:00 p.m.