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 looks to shore up lead in S.C. Hillicon Valley: Dems cancel surveillance vote after pushback to amendments | Facebook to ban certain coronavirus ads | Lawmakers grill online ticketing execs | Hacker accessed facial recognition company's database Vulnerable Democrats brace for Sanders atop ticket MORE

So far, the only Democrat who has declared a 2020 White House run is Rep. John DelaneyJohn Kevin DelaneyNevada caucuses open with a few hiccups Lobbying world The Hill's Campaign Report: Four-way sprint to Iowa finish line 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'RourkeCNN signs Andrew Yang as contributor Krystal Ball: Voters are coming to their own judgements about who is electable Warren campaign to host series of events in Texas 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 CruzSteyer calls for Senate term limits to pass gun control legislation Cruz targets California governor over housing 'prescriptions' This week: House to vote on legislation to make lynching a federal hate crime 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 SandersDNC warns campaigns about cybersecurity after attempted scam Overnight Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — Trump taps Pence to lead coronavirus response | Trump accuses Pelosi of trying to create panic | CDC confirms case of 'unknown' origin | Schumer wants .5 billion in emergency funds Biden looks to shore up lead in S.C. MORE (I-Vt.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenBiden looks to shore up lead in S.C. Hillicon Valley: Dems cancel surveillance vote after pushback to amendments | Facebook to ban certain coronavirus ads | Lawmakers grill online ticketing execs | Hacker accessed facial recognition company's database Push for national popular vote movement gets boost from conservatives MORE (D-Mass.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisBiden looks to shore up lead in S.C. House passes historic legislation to make lynching a federal hate crime This week: House to vote on legislation to make lynching a federal hate crime MORE (D-Calif.) and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerDemocrats' Obama-to-Sanders shift on charter schooling This week: House to vote on legislation to make lynching a federal hate crime Juan Williams: Black votes matter MORE (D-N.J.).

Castro, who at one point was considered a possible running mate for 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDNC warns campaigns about cybersecurity after attempted scam Biden looks to shore up lead in S.C. Stone judge under pressure over calls for new trial 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 CastroJulián Castro endorses Rep. Cuellar's primary opponent in Texas Harris, Castro introduce resolution condemning Trump aide Stephen Miller As Mexico abuses migrants under Trump's orders, where is Congress? MORE (D-Texas), to discuss his possible presidential plans on Thursday.

-- Updated 12:00 p.m.