If Rep. Henry Cuellar prevails against progressive primary challenger Jessica Cisneros today, it will be against all odds.
The saga of Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) and his fight to stay in Congress may someday become the stuff of Texas legend.
Texas, or “The Great State of Texas,” as Texans themselves like to call it, has been an odd mixture of Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Moderates, Progressives, et al, for decades now.
Sometimes trending bright red, other times swinging blueish, then back to crimson and into purple, both major parties have fought bitterly over the state during the last few election cycles, with third party candidates doing their fair share of disruption.
Candidates like Ross Perot hailed from Texas; as does the Bush family, which sent two former U.S. Presidents to Washington. Texas has produced a fair number of famous Democrats as well, routining dispatching duly elected representatives to Capitol Hill to represent the interests of Texas under the banner of the Democratic Party.
Texas has been a testing ground in recent years for a new kind of full-contact political bloodsport. This clashing of political opponents and wills has been hallmarked by bitter fighting and political rivalry. Opposition parties have been busily undermining one-another, chipping away at financial and popular support, using the media to push one candidate’s narrative over another.
Only this fight hasn’t been between Republicans and Democrats, or between major party candidates and independent candidates. It hasn’t even been a question of progressives versus conservatives.
In Texas, and especially in the 28th District, it has been Democrat against Democrat; the left against the middle, Moderates and Progressives in a fight to the metaphorical and figurative death.
Politics is zero sum game; someone always wins, someone always loses. And today, May 24, 2022, the final chapter in the epic struggle between incumbent Democrat Congressman Henry Cuellar and Justice Democrat challenger Jessica Cisneros will be written.
If Rep. Cuellar is reelected, he will have survived one of the most harrowing primary challenges of the past decade.
It heated up last election cycle, but really it all started in 2016, like so many other trends, with the election of Donald Trump.
Trump spawned the Justice Democrats, who ran progressive candidates against incumbent Democratic Party moderates in 2018 and succeeded, giving the world such political talents as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
In 2020, more Justice Democrat candidates joined the ranks of “The Squad,” including Rep. Jamaal Bowman, by defeating more moderate, long-serving Democratic Party incumbents.
But Texas Justice Democratic candidate Jessica Cisneros did not join them. She was defeated in the March 2020 primary and Rep. Henry Cuellar prevailed; but not by much.
Shortly thereafter, Cisneros announced she would make another primary run against Cuellar in 2022 and, true to her word, has been campaigning furiously ever since to do just that.
In the 2022 Texas primaries, the Justice Democrats hoped to seat even more progressive candidates in an ongoing effort to tilt the scales in congress towards the more progressive end of the political spectrum. They have again endorsed Cisneros.
Something funny happened on the way to the March 2022 Democratic Party primary however. A few weeks before Texas Democrats showed up to vote, Rep. Henry Cuellar’s office was the subject of a very public FBI raid, during which agents could be seen removing items from his home and campaign office.
It is an episode news outlets still, all these many months later, describe as “mysterious and still unexplained,” and “what exactly the FBI was investigating remains unclear,” and, “it’s unclear why the FBI searched Cuellar’s home and campaign headquarters earlier this year.”
Cuellar himself has long since denied any wrongdoing and his attorney told the press the Congressman is not the target of an FBI investigation, but the entire episode was a “damning drama,” that did not at all help the incumbent a few weeks later when he faced Cisneros again.
The race was so close, Cuellar was forced into a run-off against Cisneros, which is happening today, May 24, 2022.
Mr. Cuellar, in addition to his moderate bona fides, his outspoken opposition to open border polices- and this very odd episode of the FBI raiding the home and office of a sitting U.S. Congressman right before a competitive election then failing to provide an adequate explanation- has another distinction, one that looks to play heavily in 2022.
Rep. Henry Cuellar is the last pro-life Democrat in Congress, though Cisneros would prefer to call him “Anti-Choice,” when she isn’t calling him the “Joe Manchin of the House.”
The whole situation has been further complicated by the fact that Democratic Party leadership, in general, does not like primaries against Democratic Party incumbents. No political party does. Primaries are just as expensive as general election campaigns, consuming time and resources better used to defeat Republicans.
As such, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is ostensibly sticking with Rep. Cuellar, who she has officially endorsed. House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer has done likewise. House Majority Whip Rep. Jim Clyburn has even campaigned for Cuellar in Texas, much to the irritation of Texas progressives.
Most House Democrats have remained stubbornly silent on the subject, however, refusing to endorse or support either candidate publicly.
“House Dems shun primary fight against anti-abortion incumbent,” concluded Politico on May 23, 2022. “The party is rallying behind abortion rights as a key 2022 issue, but few House Democrats are backing anti-abortion Rep. Henry Cuellar’s challenger.”
Justice Democrat Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was quoted in the article.
“Historically, there’s always been a lot of reticence on endorsing against an incumbent,” Ocasio-Cortez said when asked about Cisneros and the Texas primary run-off. “Even when I first got here and even just mentioned the possibility, it was a huge scandal in the caucus and I think that there’s a lot of that that still remains.”
“But frankly,” she finished, before trailing off; “I think that when a member deserves it…”
Progressives like the Justice Democrats clearly think Cuellar does deserve it. If Texas primary voters agree- and it is far from clear they will, even on the subject of abortion- the Texas 28th will have new representation.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)