August 17, 2022

Centrist Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) declared victory early Wednesday morning in his primary challenge from left-wing “Squad” candidate Jessica Cisneros in a runoff election — despite the race remaining too close to call.

As of 7:30 a.m. EST Wednesday, Cuellar held onto a less than one-point lead with 94% of voting precincts reporting in the district — which stretches from eastern limits of San Antonio to Laredo on the Mexican border.

“Tonight the 28th Congressional District spoke, and we witnessed our great Democratic system at work,” Cuellar wrote in a statement posted to Twitter. “The results are in, all the votes have been tallied- I am honored to have once again been re-elected as the Democratic Nominee for Congress.”

The Texas Democrat thanked his supporters and family, as well as Majority Whip Jim Clyburn for his support.

“Finally, I would like to congratulate Jessica on a hard-fought campaign,” he wrote. “I look forward to working with her, and all Texans of the 28th district, to help move forward and win in November! Once again, thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve you in Congress and I will continue to represent our values in South Texas. Thank you and God bless America.”

Jessica Cisneros, a 29-year-old immigration attorney, challenged Henry Cuellar.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

Cisneros has not yet conceded, telling supporters “we are still waiting for every ballot and eligible vote to be counted.”

As of Wednesday morning, less than 200 votes separated the candidates.

The race has highlighted a clash between Democratic Party leaders and the emergent socialist wing of the party — with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and others making the trip to South Texas to stump for Cisneros, who turned 29 on Tuesday.

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Cuellar narrowly held off Cisneros in a 2020 primary and bested her by just 1.5 percentage points in an initial round of voting on March 1, triggering the runoff.

Jessica Cisneros was a part of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's "Squad".
Cisneros has been supported by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
AP/Eric Gay

Cisneros, a former intern in Cuellar’s office, drew negative headlines recently due to her relationship with her former high school teacher John Balli, who publicly boasted that he recruited her to run for office.

Balli’s ex-wife blamed Cisneros for breaking up their marriage and a billboard taken out by Cuellar allies in the final stretch of the campaign branded Cisneros a “Home Wrecker.”

Cuellar faced his own negative coverage due to an FBI raid on his home in January that reportedly was linked to Azerbaijani businessmen.

Henry Cuellar
Cueller has clashed with the Biden administration for not doing more for illegal immigration.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

Cisneros supports the establishment of a single-payer healthcare system and a range of other left-wing policy positions. Cueller, by contrast, is known for breaking with his party and has clashed with the Biden administration for not doing more to deter illegal immigration.

Pelosi (D-Calif.) has defended Cuellar despite the fact that he is the only self declared “pro-life” House Democrat amid a looming Supreme Court decision that could overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide.

“I support my incumbents,” Pelosi said last week. “I support every one of them, from right to left. That is what I do.”

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi,
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi defended Cuellar despite his position on abortion.
CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

“We have a big-tent party, and if we’re gonna be a big-tent party, we got to be a big-tent party,” House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) argued during a recent campaign trip to support Cuellar. “I don’t believe we ought to have a litmus test in the Democratic Party. I think we have to bring as many people into the party as we possibly can.”

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But Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez have said the race is a major chance to shift Democrats toward more progressive stances.

Sanders tweeted last week that Cisneros “is offering a bold agenda that speaks to the needs of Texas’ 28th district. Her opponent, one of the very few anti-choice Democrats in Congress, is funded by over a million dollars in corporate contributions from Big Oil companies. She can win if we stand with her.”

Ocasio-Cortez, for her part, said at a February rally for Cisneros that if “we flip Texas, we flip the country.”