Left-Wing Challenger Tests Establishment Democrat

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Democratic candidate Jessica Cisneros | Image by Getty Images

Although no winner has been officially declared in her Democratic congressional runoff race for south Texas’ 28th district, Jessica Cisneros is requesting a recount of the balloting in her race to unseat incumbent Congressman Henry Cuellar.

The 29-year-old Cisneros, who currently works as an immigration attorney, trails Cuellar by less than 200 votes, with over 95% of the vote counted. As of Wednesday, 45,509 ballots have been counted, with Cuellar holding a lead of just 0.6%, according to the Texas Secretary of State website.

“Our movement was never just about one politician — it was about taking on an unjust system that rewards corruption and corporate profits at the expense of the needs of working people,” Cisneros said in a statement posted by a Texas Tribune reporter that Cisneros later retweeted.

“Our community isn’t done fighting, we are filing for a recount,” she continued. “With just under 0.6% of the vote symbolizing such stark differences for the future in South Texas, I owe it to our community to see this through to the end.”

The runoff was necessitated by both candidates receiving less than 50% of the vote in the March 1 primary. In the March 1 race, Cisneros came within 1,000 votes of Cuellar after having lost by less than 3,000 votes to him in the 2020 primary.

The 28th district is politically diverse, spanning from Laredo, Cuellar’s hometown, to San Antonio, a more liberal area that has served as Cisneros’ base of support.

The region’s political diversity could be seen in the switch former State Representative Ryan Guillen made from the Democratic party to the Republican party. Guillen cited shifting views in the Democratic party as his reasoning.

“After much consideration and prayer with my family, I feel that my fiscally conservative, pro-business, and pro-life values are no longer in-step with the Democrat Party of today, and I am proudly running as a Republican to represent House District 31,” Guillen announced in a statement.

Texas’ HD 31 consists of much of the same region as the 28th Congressional district. After representing the district in the Texas House as a Democrat since 2003, Guillen subsequently received 59% of the vote in the March 1 Republican Primary. Guillen is favored to win his general election in November.

The race between Cuellar and Cisneros also highlighted a battle between establishment Democrats like the incumbent, whose peers back him and his more traditional values, against those like the young challenger, who ran on a platform with positions considered more in line with the nation’s most prominent leftist politicians.

The 66-year-old Cuellar, who has already declared himself the winner in the race, is in his ninth term in Congress. Cuellar was backed by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Whip James Clyburn.

Pelosi made her support of Cuellar clear by referring to him as “a valued member of Congress.” She and Clyburn also recorded phone messages sent to voters in the district before the runoff, with Clyburn personally coming to Texas to campaign for the incumbent.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland similarly supported Cuellar last month.

“I believe that Mr. Cuellar has represented his district well, his state well, I think he’s a valuable member of our Congress, and I’m supporting him for reelection,” Hoyer said.

Endorsements for Cisneros came from prominent leftist politicians such as Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

Ocasio-Cortez personally came to San Antonio to rally support for Cisneros. On the day of the runoff, the congresswoman from New York chastised Democratic leadership for backing Cuellar over Cisneros after the Uvalde mass school shooting and recent indications that the Supreme Court may soon overturn Roe v. Wade.

“On the day of a mass shooting and weeks after news of Roe, Democratic Party leadership rallied for a pro-NRA, anti-choice incumbent under investigation in a close primary. Robocalls, fundraisers, all of it,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a tweet. “Accountability isn’t partisan. This was an utter failure of leadership.”

Cisneros, who interned in Cuellar’s office as a college student, criticized his more “conservative views” on several different subjects. One of the most prominent topics in that realm deals with abortion, as Cuellar is the only House Democrat to oppose the procedure.

That particular topic has become more prominent since the leak of a February draft opinion by Justice Samuel Alito indicated the possibility of the U.S. Supreme Court striking down the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. The leak sparked days of protest by pro-abortion advocates.

Cisneros attempted to capitalize on the leaked draft opinion with a statement calling on Democratic leadership to drop their support for Cuellar.

“As the Supreme Court prepares to overturn Roe v. Wade, I am calling on Democratic Party leadership to withdraw their support of Henry Cuellar, who is the last anti-choice Democrat in the House,” Cisneros said.

Cuellar defended his stance, saying he did not support the position expressed in the leaked draft opinion.

“Let me be clear about the leaked opinion of the potential SCOTUS ruling, it is not based on precedent and is not incremental in nature,” Cuellar said in a statement posted on his campaign’s Twitter account. “It will further divide the country during these already divisive times but let us wait until the final ruling.”

Cuellar has also been dealing with controversy since before the March primary, particularly after an FBI raid of his home and campaign office in January. In April, the FBI indicated that Cuellar was not the subject of the investigation.

Still, Democratic party leadership stood by Cuellar even in the face of the FBI raid.

“I support my incumbents,” Pelosi said during a March news conference in Austin. “I support every one of them, from right to left. That is what I do.”

Aside from reiterating her support for incumbents, Pelosi also affirmed that she “also [has her] eye on November because [they] have no intention of losing.”

Jason Casellas, an associate professor of political science at the University of Houston, said Democrats in South Texas “are not as liberal on this issue as Democrats elsewhere,” referring to abortion.

Casellas said that top Democrats are unlikely to abandon their endorsements of Cuellar because his stances are more in line with that of the 28th district and its community.

“Due to his incumbency and moderate record in a fairly conservative district, Cuellar is the more electable candidate in November, and Pelosi and her team know that,” said Casellas.

The ultimate winner between Cuellar and Cisneros will face Republican Cassy Garcia, a former staffer of Senator Ted Cruz, in the November general election. Garcia defeated Sandra Whitten in another runoff last month, garnering 57% of the 14,893 ballots cast.

The general election is also expected to be close. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates the 28th district as a “toss-up,” and the National Republican Congressional Committee has included it on its target list.

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9 months ago

Polls closed over two weeks ago. Plus there was early voting for two weeks before that. Why are votes still being counted for this long. It’s to cheat. In past elections the popuar candidate typically finally loses to some other candidate for other political reasons after just enough ballots to win mysteriously appear.