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 BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette Biden2020 Democrats barnstorm the country for MLK weekend BuzzFeed story has more to say about media than the president Kamala Harris picks Baltimore as headquarters for potential 2020 campaign: report MORE

So far, the only Democrat who has declared a 2020 White House run is Rep. John DelaneyJohn Kevin DelaneyMoulton to visit New Hampshire amid 2020 speculation Delaney pledges sole focus on 'bipartisan proposals' in first 100 days of presidency Democratic dark horses could ride high in 2020 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'RourkeRobert (Beto) Francis O'RourkeEx-Michelle Obama aide says O'Rourke's road trip is a 'listening tour' in form of a travel blog Howard Dean looking for a 'younger, newer' Democratic nominee in 2020 Former staffer accuses Jackson Lee of retaliation after rape claim 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 CruzGroup aiming to draft Beto O’Rourke unveils first 2020 video Howard Dean looking for a 'younger, newer' Democratic nominee in 2020 Congress can stop the war on science 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 SandersBernard (Bernie) Sanders2020 Democrats barnstorm the country for MLK weekend Bill Maher defends Bernie Sanders campaign over sexual harassment allegations Americans need an economy that supports more than the 1 percent MORE (I-Vt.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann Warren2020 Democrats barnstorm the country for MLK weekend Kamala Harris picks Baltimore as headquarters for potential 2020 campaign: report Dem voters split on importance of women atop the ticket in 2020 MORE (D-Mass.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi Harris2020 Democrats barnstorm the country for MLK weekend Women's March expecting smaller crowds amid controversy over alleged anti-Semitism Kamala Harris picks Baltimore as headquarters for potential 2020 campaign: report MORE (D-Calif.) and Cory BookerCory Anthony Booker2020 Democrats barnstorm the country for MLK weekend Ocasio-Cortez returns to 'The Late Show' on Monday We need action on personal cybersecurity MORE (D-N.J.).

Castro, who at one point was considered a possible running mate for 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonConservatives pound BuzzFeed, media over Cohen report BuzzFeed story has more to say about media than the president Trump knocks BuzzFeed over Cohen report, points to Russia dossier 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 CastroDems revive impeachment talk after latest Cohen bombshell Dems demand answers following explosive new Cohen report Intel Dem: Trump must resign or be impeached if Cohen report is true MORE (D-Texas), to discuss his possible presidential plans on Thursday.

-- Updated 12:00 p.m.