Incumbent U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, narrowly held onto his seat during Tuesday’s primary after a nine-month progressive grassroots campaign waged against the 15-year incumbent by his 26-year-old erstwhile intern, immigration and human rights attorney Jessica Cisneros.
The winner of the primary was still ambiguous in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, with Cuellar ahead and precincts unaccounted for; ultimately, the incumbent congressman defeated Cisneros with 51.8% of the vote to her 48.2%.
The campaign drew national attention, with Cisneros being compared to New York politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a democratic socialist whose 2018 grassroots campaign propelled her to Congress. Cisneros was, in fact, endorsed by AOC.
During the campaign, Cisneros emphasized her commitment to healthcare accessibility and immigration reform.
Cuellar, who emphasized his bipartisan track record and his experience with trade and border issues during the campaign, received the backing of the Democratic party establishment.
Cuellar again emphasized his position as a moderate in a statement he issued addressing his victory Wednesday.
“These results show that even in heavily democratic [sic] districts, a majority of voters still want us to be a big tent party, where moderates are welcome,” he wrote.
Despite his commitment to moderate values, Cuellar took a strong stance politically in the rest of the statement.
“As Democrats, we must continue protecting the majority in the House, taking back the Senate, as well as taking back the White House,” he wrote. “I am proud to have overcome this challenge, and to my opponent I wish you the best. I’m already in Washington, D.C., back to work and continuing to fight for the constituents in my district.”
Locally, Cuellar’s message appears to have resonated with Starr County voters, where Cuellar received a significant majority of the votes, 6,970 to 3,872.
That was not the case in Hidalgo County, where Cisneros received 7,100 votes to Cuellar’s 6,088.
Speaking publicly about the race Wednesday, Cisneros referenced the issues that seem to have struck a chord with Hidalgo County voters.
“When I came down here the decision to run was easy, because I still saw so many families that were suffering from the same challenges that I faced while growing up,” she said. “The rampant poverty rate, the inhumane immigration laws. The fact that there’s so many people that still don’t have healthcare and that there’s so many of us that have lost family members because we just cannot afford care.”
Despite the loss, Cisneros spoke positively about her campaign and its accomplishments.
“We exceeded all expectations for a primary challenger to an incumbent. We forced him to spend over $2 million of his warchest, and to work for his job, and we moved him on a number of issues from impeachment to the minimum wage, and we raised more money than any primary challenger to an incumbent in recent history,” she said.
Cisneros complimented her campaign infrastructure, commenting on money she said was poured into Cuellar’s campaign from national donors.
“I think we showed what is possible when our community rallies behind ourselves,” she said. “The fact that we were able to get within three or four points just shows that there’s so many people out there that share the same ideas and beliefs as we do, that we do deserve better.”
Cisneros indicated that she would remain active in Texas politics in the address.
“We are going to keep fighting, we are going to keep organizing and we are going to make sure we are shining a positive, bright spotlight on the injustices of our community, but also depicting our community in an accurate portrayal,” she said. “We’re going to keep fighting to create a more progressive and accountable Democratic party this year, and obviously work to turn Texas blue up and down the ticket in November, because that’s what our communities need.”
Cuellar will face Republican candidate Sandra Whitten, who ran unopposed and received 20,635 votes in the primary, this fall.