Cuellar Defeats Progressive Challenger in Texas House Primary
2020 ElectionTexas

Cuellar Defeats Progressive Challenger in Texas House Primary


Rep. Henry Cuellar narrowly defeated progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros in a closely watched Texas’s 28th district, a disappointing loss for the progressive movement.

With 100 percent of the precincts reporting, Cuellar was leading Cisneros by 51.9 percent to 48.2 percent.

Cuellar, who was first elected in 2004, is regarded as one of the more conservative Democrats in the House  defeated Cisneros by 2,756 votes. 

The Justice Democrats, the progressive group that backed Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) insurgent bid in 2018, recruited Cisneros as a challenger to take on Cuellar. The group recruited Cisneros, ran a campaigning calling the Texas Congressman, “Trump’s favorite Democrat” after Cuellar voted with the president nearly 70% of the time during Trump’s first two years in office. 

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Cisneros, who worked as an intern for Cuellar in 2014, scored a number of high profile endorsements from progressive stars of Ocasio-Cortez, as well as presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Cisneros was also endorsed by politically powerful groups of EMILY’s List and Planned Parenthood.

Democratic establishment figures including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) endorsed Cuellar, as well as U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the political network formed by Charles Koch. Pelosi personally got involved in the race late last month when she visited Laredo, Texas.

“We want this to be not only a victory, but a resounding victory for Henry Cuellar,” Pelosi told a crowd of several dozen Cuellar campaign workers and supporters. “Every step you take, every door you knock, every call you make, will make that resounding victory possible and it includes getting out a big Democratic vote prepared to vote again in the general election so that we turn Texas blue.”

Addressing supporters late Tuesday night, Cisneros said the “movement was victorious” before the race was officially called.

“Even though we still don’t have full results yet, one thing is clear: Our movement was victorious tonight. And that’s because this fight has always been about an opportunity to prove how one of us, a brown girl from our community, with her whole community behind her, could take on an entire machine and make them more scared than they’ve ever been before,” Cisneros said.

Cisneros officially conceded Wednesday morning, saying in a statement, “This is just the beginning. The first thing we had to defeat was the culture of fear — and our movement was victorious in proving we’re within striking distance of bringing fundamental change to South Texas.”

Ocasio-Cortez praised Cisneros in a tweet on Wednesday.

“I am so incredibly proud of Jessica Cisneros. At 26 years old, she ran for office for the first time to offer TX28 new leadership that fights for workers, gender rights, & a climate agenda,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted on Wednesday. “She stood up to Koch brother money & incumbency, & she came closer than anyone imagined.”

Cuellar has raised $1.7 million this election cycle according to FEC filings, with his top donors coming from the oil and gas industry and the private prison industry, while Cisneros has raised $1.3 million, with money coming in mostly from small donors.

Cuellar will face Republican Sandra Whitten in the general election and is considered a strong favored to win a ninth term. 

Mona Salama