LAREDO, Texas — Nearly a month after voting ended, Rep. Henry Cuellar, the last House Democrat opposed to abortion rights, has officially clinched the Democratic nomination in Texas’ 28th congressional district.
For the second consecutive election cycle, Cuellar defeated progressive lawyer Jessica Cisneros. The Associated Press called the race on Tuesday.
After an initial campaign of votes cast, Cuellar led Cisneros by 281 votes, prompting him to declare victory.
Cisneros exercised his right to demand a recount at his campaign’s expense.
But the recount, which ended Tuesday, increased Cuellar’s lead by a few votes, according to the Texas Democratic Party.
Cuellar “was someone who was targeted by national groups, but always maintained that he was a good fit for this district,” said Joshua Blank, research director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “At the end of the day, when you’ve run successfully in a district multiple times, you know where to refer voters.”
The result is a victory for House Democratic leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who backed Cuellar despite pressure from Cisneros and other progressives to drop him. Party leaders evidently believed Cuellar’s argument that a socially conservative candidate is the best bet against a Republican in 28th Texas, which winds from San Antonio to Laredo and points southeast along the border. Mexican-American.
Cuellar is set to take on Republican nominee Cassy Garcia, who is a former aide to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) — and the resources of a national Republican party determined to shore up former President Donald Trump’s gains in southern Texas. Hillary Clinton beat Trump to 28th in Texas by nearly 20 percentage points in 2016, but Joe Biden beat him there by just four points in 2020.
Redistricting in 2021 made the seat slightly more Democratic. Biden would have won in the new borders by 7 percentage points — giving the seat a Democratic tilt, but not an insurmountable one for Republicans in a likely GOP wave year.
“I would ask anyone, which is more important – to have a pro-life Democrat or to have an anti-abortion Republican?” Majority House Whip Jim Clyburn (DS.C.) said at a rally in support of Cuellar in San Antonio in early May. “Because in November, that could very well be the choice in this neighborhood.”
But Cuellar’s victory is also a big disappointment for progressives who were hoping to get rid of him.
Cuellar, 66, is a longtime ally of the fossil fuel industry and the National Rifle Association. He inspires contempt from the left — from climate activists to labor unions, from pro-choice groups to pro-Palestine advocates — more than any other Democrat in the House of Representatives. Among other recent strikes against him, Cuellar was the only Democrat to vote against the Bill PRO to extend trade union rights and Women’s Health Protection Act codify a federal right of access to abortion.
As a result, Cisneros’ second challenge against Cuellar, which ended on May 24 — his 29th birthday — became another costly proxy battle between interest groups with differing visions for the Democratic Party. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s super PAC spent over $1.8 million to re-elect Cuellar, and Mainstream Democrats, a centrist super PAC finance largely by billionaire co-founder of LinkedIn Reid Hoffman, launched in nearly $800,000 in his name.
On the other side, super PACs linked to pro-choice group EMILY’s List, the Working Families Party, and Justice Democrats, the left-wing group that recruited Cisneros to run, have spent more than $1.5 million on support Cisneros.
Cisneros gained momentum in January when the FBI raided Cuellar’s Laredo home as part of a federal investigation. would have been associated with Azerbaijan’s influence peddling in Congress. She ended up trailing Cuellar by just two percentage points in the first round of primary voting on March 1. The presence of a third Democrat – Tannya Benavides, a former educator who later backed Cisneros – prevented Cuellar from securing an outright majority on the first ballot. , triggering the second round of elections on May 24.
Political winds swept Cisneros’ way again when a proposed Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade fled in early May. The announcement reinforced the importance of a key area of contrast between Cisneros, who is pro-choice, and Cuellar, who opposes the legalization of abortion, except in cases of rape, incest and danger to the health of the pregnant person.
“With the majority of the House on the line, he could very well be the decisive vote on the future of our reproductive rights and we cannot afford to take that risk,” Cisneros said.
Locally, Cisneros also argued that Cuellar’s seniority and the federal funds he helped secure through his House Appropriations Committee seat had not raised the standard of living in Laredo enough. She pointed to the city’s tap water crisis as a reflection of the shortcomings of a political class led by Cuellar.
Voters supporting Cisneros in the less prosperous southern neighborhood of Laredo told HuffPost they support her in hopes of bringing about change to the area’s political culture and economy.
“It’s just hard on low-income people, especially on the south side,” said Christian Aviles, a trucking company dispatcher who opposes abortion rights but voted for it anyway. Cisneros. “After all these years, I don’t think we’re doing enough.”
But Cuellar’s allies have worked to cover their tracks on reproductive rights. Mainstream Democrats funded an ad claiming Cuellar would protect abortion rights. Unknown entities sympathetic to Cuellar also funded a billboard and one fake newspaper falsely claiming that Cisneros’ romantic relationship with his former teacher had derailed the educator’s subsequent marriage.
And in a low turnout runoff, Cuellar was able to count on the support of generally older, socially conservative voters in Laredo, worried that Cisneros was not supporting enough border enforcement and capitalism.
Cuellar has “done a good job,” said Alejandro Vela Jr., who runs an engine repair business with his father in the southern neighborhood of Laredo. “Do you see the situation of foreigners in an irregular situation coming? You need someone – you don’t want to cut border patrols.
Vela voted twice for Barack Obama, then twice for Trump. He said he would vote for the Republican candidate if Cisneros won the primary.
HuffPost asked Vela if he thinks Cisneros is being too soft on border politics.
“Yes,” Vela replied before gesturing to his father, who had accompanied him to vote. “She’s a socialist – everything my dad went to fight in Vietnam.”
The Huffington Gt