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 BidenSanders joins Biden atop 2020 Democratic field: poll The Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions Trump says impeachment lawyers were 'really good' MORE

So far, the only Democrat who has declared a 2020 White House run is Rep. John DelaneyJohn Kevin DelaneyThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clash over rules Elizabeth Warren moves 'bigly' to out-trump Trump DNC goof: Bloomberg should be on debate stage 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'RourkeBiden calls for revoking key online legal protection Trump mocks Booker over suspended presidential campaign Julián Castro endorses Warren in 2020 race 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 CruzWhat to watch for on Day 2 of Senate impeachment trial Senate Republicans muscle through rules for Trump trial Cruz: White House not expected to push motion to dismiss impeachment articles 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 SandersSanders joins Biden atop 2020 Democratic field: poll The Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions Trump on Clinton's Sanders comments: 'She's the one that people don't like' MORE (I-Vt.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenSanders joins Biden atop 2020 Democratic field: poll The Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions Hillary Clinton tears open wound with her attack on Sanders MORE (D-Mass.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisRep. Bobby Rush endorses Bloomberg's White House bid Actor Michael Douglas endorses Bloomberg for president Democrats: McConnell impeachment trial rules a 'cover-up,' 'national disgrace' MORE (D-Calif.) and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerPatrick backs reparations in unveiling 'Equity Agenda for Black Americans' Booker ahead of Trump impeachment trial: 'History has its eyes on us' Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers gear up for Senate impeachment trial MORE (D-N.J.).

Castro, who at one point was considered a possible running mate for 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions Trump on Clinton's Sanders comments: 'She's the one that people don't like' Hillary Clinton tears open wound with her attack on Sanders 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 CastroWarren campaign hires two top Castro staffers Democrats press Trump administration to stop DNA collection from detained migrants The Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clash over rules MORE (D-Texas), to discuss his possible presidential plans on Thursday.

-- Updated 12:00 p.m.