San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro may not be a household name yet, but President Barack Obama's campaign sent him to Las Vegas on Friday to tout the administration's housing programs and to criticize GOP White House rival Mitt Romney for not offering a plan to help Nevadans stay in their overmortgaged homes.
"How long do we have to listen to Governor Romney before we understand it is not his priority to help homeowners stay in their homes?" Castro said at a news conference at the Latin Chamber of Commerce.
"President Obama is doing the hard work that it takes to protect the middle class, to see to it that homeowners are able to stay in their homes and that banks can no longer take advantage of them," Castro added. "And Governor Romney is perfectly fine with letting the banks do what they want in that regard."
The Romney campaign responded by renewing criticism that Obama didn't act quickly enough after he took office in 2009 to stem the housing crisis, which hit Nevada the hardest. About 60 percent of homeowners here still owe more on their houses than their homes are worth, and thousands have lost their homes and savings to foreclosure.
"President Obama can try to distract from his failure to address the housing crisis during his first term, but Nevadans who are facing foreclosure or are underwater in their homes know that they are not better off than they were four years ago," said Mason Harrison, a Romney campaign spokesman in Nevada.
Castro is among a string of campaign surrogates Obama has been sending to Nevada, a battleground state that will help determine who wins the White House on Nov. 6. Romney, too, has been playing the surrogate game with early voting five weeks away in Nevada and the election in a little more than 50 days - a blink of an eye in campaign time.
The surrogates reinforce campaign messages, generate excitement from core supporters and volunteers, and often appeal to a select slice of the electorate that may make the difference between winning and losing.
Castro, a rising Latino leader, won a starring role last week as the first Hispanic keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention. Since then, the mayor, 37, has campaigned for Obama in North Carolina, where the convention was held, Virginia and now Nevada on Friday and today. Up next, Colorado, Florida and possibly Ohio.
Nevada and several other of those states have large Latino populations - 26 percent of residents in the Silver State - or are so competitive that Obama and Romney are fiercely fighting for every vote and every group.
For Romney this weekend, Saratoga Springs, Utah, Mayor Mia Love will help open a new Team Nevada campaign office in Henderson on Sunday, two weeks after speaking to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. She will rally volunteers at two campaign offices in Las Vegas in Centennial Hills and Summerlin.
Love, 36, is the sort of fresh face the Republican Party is showcasing to attract voters: a young, conservative African-American with immigrant roots. She also is a member of the Mormon church, as is Romney. She is running for Congress in Utah and would be the first black conservative woman in the House if she wins.
At the GOP convention, Love said her Haitian parents immigrated to the United States in the 1970s with $10 in their pockets and in search of a better life. She touted personal responsibility to achieve the American dream.
"President Obama's version of America is a divided one - pitting us against each other based on our income level, gender and social status," Love said in a widely praised convention speech. "His policies have failed. We are not better off than we were four years ago, and no rhetoric, bumper sticker or campaign ad can change that."
Obama, as the incumbent who won Nevada easily four years ago, is the slim favorite to win the state again. But Romney has made inroads thanks to the state's high unemployment rate, 12 percent.
Hispanics have been hurt more than most groups because the construction industry collapsed.
Castro came armed with statistics to show Latinos' situation has improved with unemployment among Hispanics in Nevada at 15.1 percent compared with 19.2 percent when Obama took office.
"My message to Hispanics is we're making progress and we cannot afford the disaster the Mitt Romney presidency would be," Castro said in an interview.
On housing, Castro and several Nevada politicians at the Latin Chamber news conference noted Obama last year launched a "hardest hit fund" to help homeowners who were the deepest underwater in their mortgages.
As of the end of June, the fund had helped more than 1,000 Nevada homeowners to the tune of $23 million, said Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, D-Las Vegas.
About half of that money came from the fund itself and the other half from banks or entities holding the home loans, according to the program's website.
Contact Laura Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2919. Follow @lmyerslvrj on Twitter.