Cuellar beats Cisneros in South Texas primary runoff, Recount Shows

Henry Cuellar, the embattled nine-term congressman from South Texas in the political fight of his career, won his Democratic runoff against a young progressive opponent, overcoming fierce attacks on his record and an FBI investigation with a push last-minute tickets from the top national Democrats.

Mr. Cuellar, whose victory was reported by The Associated Press after a tight May 24 runoff led to a recount, beat Jessica Cisneros, a lawyer who was once an intern for the congressman. Unofficial results released by the Texas Democratic Party showed he won the nomination by just 289 votes.

His survival in a rare runoff primary for the House seat representing Texas’ 28th congressional district scored a narrow victory for moderate Democrats who had viewed his run as a proxy battle for broader party leadership.

Both candidates were backed by Democratic stars from their respective centrist and progressive corners, and they drew stark ideological distinctions between them on many of their party’s core issues, including abortion, immigration, the energy industry and the environment.

Shortly after the recount totals were released, Alexandra Rojas, executive director of Justice Democrats, a progressive political action committee, expressed anger at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and key Democratic leaders for refusing to support Mrs Cisneros.

“The party establishment would rather protect one of its own than deliver results to Democratic voters and families in South Texas,” Rojas said in a statement. “It’s shameful and I’m deeply worried about November.”

Mr. Cuellar, 66, the last anti-abortion Democrat in the House, represented the old guard. He highlighted the federal dollars he brought to the region, his efforts to strengthen border security and his firmness stance against abortionciting his Catholic faith and the role it plays in his border region.

Mr. Cuellar held once”NRA A” Rating., but that dropped in 2020 after voting in favor of expanded background checks. The second round took place on the same day as a gunman killed 19 children and two adults at a school in Uvalde, Texas, located in a bordering neighborhood.

He has backed more oil drilling and often votes with Republicans on energy policy. His hard talk on immigration sparked anger and concern from immigrant rights activists, who said he was starring in dangerous right-wing characterizations about immigrants and the border.

Earlier this year, the FBI raided Mr Cuellar’s home in the border town of Laredo as part of an ongoing investigation that appears to be linked to an investigation into Azerbaijan’s political influence, l former soviet republic.

Ms. Cisneros, 28, like Mr. Cuellar, is from Laredo and the child of Mexican immigrants. She first disputed the longtime congresswoman in 2020 when she was fresh out of law school and 3.6 percentage points away from turning him down. In March, Mrs Cisneros missed less than 1,000 votes of Mr. Cuellar’s total, forcing the two to a runoff.

Ms. Cisneros, who has worked with families of asylum-seeking migrants, approached immigration and border policy from a humanitarian perspective. She defined abortion as a health issue and championed progressive causes such as Medicare for All, a $15 minimum wage, and the Green New Deal.

In early May, the Supreme Court’s leaked draft opinion quashing Roe v. Wade, who established a constitutional right to abortion, appeared to give Ms Cisneros a boost later in the race. Mr. Cuellar was the only House Democrat to vote against the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would have guaranteed abortion rights through federal law.

Mr. Cuellar’s district stretches from Laredo to San Antonio, and the redistricting changes have made it slightly more Democratic, with more Bexar County voters. The district went from 76.9% Hispanic to 75.3%, but a slight increase in the number of white voters should help Ms. Cisneros if those new voters were San Antonio liberals.

Ms Cisneros clashed with progressive firebrands – Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Like Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, Ms. Cisneros was recruited by the Justice Democrats, a progressive political action committee that placed a full-page ad in a local newspaper seeking candidates. Laredo community leaders submitted his name.

Cuellar received endorsements from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who recorded robocalls for him, as well as Rep. James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the House Majority Whip, and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. .

The race has at times been controversial.

Ms Cisneros criticized Mr Cuellar as a corrupt politician. In the home stretch of the contest, billboards appeared in Laredo that made allegations about Ms Cisneros’ political positions as well as her personal life, calling her a “home wrecker”. Mr Cuellar denied having anything to do with the billboards and said he did not tolerate them.

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