Progressives dig for dogfight to bring down Cuellar at Texas Runoff

It’s Wednesday, and Jessica Cisneros has lived to fight another day.

And for Rep. Henry Cuellar, his opponent, that’s not a good thing.

With the Democratic primary results for the 28th congressional district sitting in Cuellar at 48.5% and Cisneros at 46.8%, with 95% of the votes counted, the race now heads to a runoff on May 24.

The run-off requirement was met when a third candidate, Tannya Benavides, received 4.7% of the vote. She will not proceed to the second round.

Texas progressives hope Cisneros will ultimately be victorious as she offers an alternative to the nine-term anti-abortion congresswoman.

“Tonight’s result for Cisneros is good – she was in an uphill battle against an incumbent and is holding it by a very slim margin,” said Tory Gavito, president of progressive donor network Way to Win. Newsweek.

She said her group would look for signs of voter intimidation and suppression in the race. But she noted that the 3-way primary could provide lift for Cisneros.

“In a runoff, she can garner the votes of Benavides, the third candidate in the race,” Gavito said.

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, a former U.S. Senate candidate in Texas and president of NextGen America, said she always knew it would be a close race between a congresswoman with the power to become an incumbent and a progressive Latina.

She warned Cisneros supporters about what an expected low turnout runoff really means.

“Progressives have to throw in this race,” she said, “because in a second round you win by ground game,” she said, but noted that money alone won’t put not Cisneros above.

The Indivisible Project told Newsweek he sent more than 58,000 texts in TX-28 and TX-35 at text nights to publicize candidates and encourage early voting.

It also made an early investment in bilingual digital advertising to introduce Cisneros to new parts of the district, serving over 5 million impressions, and sent 63,000 bilingual mailers to households in the district “exposing a culture of corruption around it.” ‘Henry Cuellar’.

The group says trickle-down plans are yet to be finalized, but it intends to maximize donations to Cisneros again, mobilize its Texas network and national volunteers, and work with coalition partners on spending. intelligent into additional advertisements in the mail, print, radio and digital.

While even intra-party primary races often get tough, the battle between Cisneros and Cuellar has gotten personal.

After Cuellar’s home and campaign office were raided by the FBI in January as part of an investigation into organizations linked to Azerbaijan, Cisneros and allied groups shifted gears, with messages saying that Cuellar had always been “corrupt”.

In an interview with NewsweekCisneros said “we know the task force involved in the investigation is the FBI’s one that investigates bribery and corruption.”

For its part, Cuellar’s website accused his opponent of supporting defunding police and Border Patrol, which would mean the loss of jobs in their South Texas district.

He criticized high-level progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s visit to Texas to support Cisneros, and released an ad titled “Law Enforcement” that claimed her policies would lead to “open borders” that would make the community “less safe”. “

Mario Carrillo, Texas-based campaign manager for America’s Voice, an immigration advocacy group, called the announcement “appalling” and said if she won, Cisneros’ experience as a lawyer in immigration would serve as a balm that would uplift the humanity of immigrants.

In a statement, Cuellar’s campaign said the 28th congressional district had spoken, with Cuellar “winning the most votes and showing the most support” ahead of a runoff. The campaign is “confident” that she will win.

Some progressives expect that the nearly 5% of the votes going to the other Latin candidate, Benavides, will simply be transferred to Cisneros in the second round. But there is no guarantee that this will happen. Cuellar showed he could outplay Cisneros, and although she led for part of Tuesday night when the results came in, he finished the night on top.

In an interview with Newsweek ahead of Election Day, a senior source in his campaign argued that only Cuellar could fill the seat of a Republican challenge in November, and that Democrats like Cuellar, not like Cisneros, are needed in Texas to help hold the Democratic majority in Congress.

Still, progressives who cheered Greg Casar’s victory in the 35th congressional district believe a possible victory for Cisneros would show that the border region is ready for something new and not closed to progressive ideas.

Texas AFL-CIO union president Rick Levy spoke with Newsweek of climate change in the country and in the world. He connected with how many embraced Ukraine’s struggle against high odds and spoke of a rejection of the status quo in Texas.

“People are looking for something different,” Levy said. “Sometimes he’s a hero, but there have also been workers who have organized labor campaigns at places like Starbucks.”

He said people are getting the message that the economic deck is stacked against them, and connecting with someone on an emotional level “has the chance to change everything – it’s the only thing that can”.

While it makes sense for progressives to want a foothold in Texas, Cisneros is also the preferred candidate of some operatives trying to make Beto O’Rourke the next governor of Texas in a difficult climate in 2022.

Asked if a Cisneros win over Cuellar would be a boon for O’Rourke, showing that voters are looking for leadership changes, a source close to the campaign replied “no doubt.”

“Cuellar sits on his money and gives nothing to the party,” the source said. “Cisneros will energize voters and continue to build the diverse coalition we need to win.”

America’s Voice’s Carrillo acknowledged that Cuellar, who has been in the job for nearly two decades, is an “institution” in South Texas, but said you’d be “hard-pressed” to find that the lives of those in his district is significantly better. .

“He’s disconnected, in my mind, from the future of our state,” Carillo said, “which is made up of young people of color.”

“We’re a young state still finding its political footing,” he added, “and Jessica tapped into something in 2020 and is looking to finish the job this time around.”

Democratic U.S. Congressional candidate Jessica Cisneros (TX-28) concludes a speech alongside her family at a watch party on March 1, 2022 in Laredo, Texas. The late results suggest Cisneros and U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) could face a mainline runoff without getting more than the 50 percent needed for an outright victory.
Brandon Bell/Getty Images


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