This raid could be a boost for Jessica Cisneros (human rights lawyer), who narrowly lost to Rep. Henry Cuellar in the 2020 primary.
LAREDO (Texas) — Julieta Ramos knew that she would vote for Rep. Henry Cuellar again in Texas’ Democratic primary. This was even before a recent FBI raid at his home and campaign office.
Ramos, 78 of Laredo said last week in Spanish that he was the “best congressman” that he has ever had. He has a small problem with bad politics right now. But it’s not a big deal. He is sincere.”
Cuellar, 66 was victorious over Jessica Cisneros (28-year-old human right attorney supported by prominent progressives) in the 2020 Democratic Primary. Cuellar, a centrist Democrat, hoped to win this year with a stronger campaign and a larger margin. Cuellar may be in trouble after the FBI raid at his home and campaign office last month, as part of an investigation into possible ties between U.S. businessmen to Azerbaijan.
Cuellar, in a video released last month denied any wrongdoing. He also stated that the FBI would investigate him. Cuellar has not given interviews since the raid and his campaign manager declined to speak with NBC News about this story.
The raid still frightened some voters and put Democrats in a difficult spot. Cuellar is serving in Texas’ 28th district. It isn’t as certain as it used to be for Democrats in general elections.
In 2020, Trump won 41% to 47% of Latino votes in Texas’ Border Region. This has caused concern that Cisneros may be too left-leaning to win enough moderate Democrats and independent votes to keep the seat blue in Nov.
Democratic voters will now have to choose whether they want to vote for Cuellar, hoping that the investigation doesn’t hurt him more in November, or if they are willing to take the chance that Cisneros could turn out more younger voters and keep the GOP at bay. The House majority is held by Democrats, but Republicans are optimistic about their chances of securing control of the chamber. President Joe Biden’s approval ratings have dropped and Democrats now hold the House majority.
In an interview with NBC News Cisneros disputed her doubts about her electionability, saying that “I think I am more electable than Henry Cuellar. I would probably be the best chance in terms Democrats and keeping this district safe blue.”
Matt Angle, the founder and director at Lone Star Project, a Texas Democratic political-action committee, stated that District 28 is safer for Democrats, but not necessarily more liberal.
Tanya Benavides (a third Democrat) is also running in the race, and could force a second round. In the district, there is a seven-way primary for the GOP.
Early voting in Texas’ primary election, which was scheduled for March 1, started Monday.
A test for loyalty and district’s values
Cuellar supporters will be tested for loyalty by the 2022 twist in this rematch. Cuellar was first elected in 2004 as a Blue Dog Democrat. He opposes abortion rights, supports guns rights, and boasts about his work with Republicans . Cuellar is Texas’ only Democrat in the House Appropriations Committee. He has been endorsed by Bold PAC (the political arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus) and House Majority Whip Steny Hopyer, D-Md. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Speaker, supported him over Cisneros for the 2020 contest. However, she has not weighed in at this time.
Cuellar, who was a conservative by accepting an video conference award for his votes against abortion rights, emphasized his conservatism the day after the raid.
Hank Sames (69), president of Sames Auto Group in South Texas said that he does not believe the allegations against Cuellar. He also said that he is concerned about what might happen to Laredo should it lose the power Cuellar has.
After leaving a grocery shop, Sames stated that Henry was a Republican but is a tremendous help to Laredo.
The Cook Political Report, which analyses state, federal, and presidential elections has rated district as “Lean Democrat”. This is despite the changing political landscape, FBI investigation, and the evolving political landscape.
“If Cuellar is able to survive, he may not have the same strength as he was in previous elections.” “If Cisneros wins she might be too far left to win the general election,” stated Dave Wasserman, a senior editor at the site and NBC News contributor.
A changing district
The outline of District28 looks like an elongated bird with a plume sticking out from its head. It runs from the Rio Grande Valley’s easternmost boundary to pick up Webb County to the west. From there, it heads to southeast San Antonio before pushing into central Texas.
Political analysts stated that while the district’s border is more conservative, most of the new voters in San Antonio are progressive.
Cuellar represented a large portion of the district in his capacity as U.S. Congressman and the state legislature.
Cuellar complains openly that the national Democrats don’t get his district, especially its Hispanic political diversity.
He tweeted, “I’ve been delivering consistent results year after year while the defunding of the police movement has backed my opponent and has promised to cut the border patrol budget making our communities less secure and costing our area thousands more jobs.” “The stakes of this election are very high. Early voting begins Monday
Cisneros is not pledging to defund the border patrol or police.
The AOC element
Chris Soto, 42 years old, is one of the 40,000 new San Antonio voters the state legislature has shifted to the 28th district through redistricting. He was there last week with Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-N.Y.), to view her and Cisneros at the rally.
He stated that he knew about Cuellar’s challenge and was glad that he lives in the 28th District, so he could vote for Cisneros during the primary.
Cuellar has been there too long. Soto, a home healthcare worker, said that Cuellar has become too comfortable. She’s just like us. She understands our problems and our concerns.”
Cisneros has been energized by the investigation and her supporters. She said that the raid supported her portrayal Cuellar’s dependence on special interests.
About 1,200 people attended a San Antonio rally for Ocasio Cortez. They filled a concert hall, as about 50 Trump supporters and counterprotesters yelled from the streets. One man held a sign saying, “NO TO JESSICA CISNEROS IS NO TO AOC”.
The same group that helped Ocasio Cortez to the presidency, Justice Democrats, , also recruited Cisneros for 2020.
Cuellar was the target of multiple attacks by Ocasio-Cortez at the rally.
She said, “How dare ye?” criticizing Cuellar for his opposition to abortion rights and voting against them. She said to the crowd that he was partly responsible for the failure of Biden’s social safety net bill, Build Back Better. This would have maintained child tax credits.
Ocasio Cortez disregarded the notion that Cisneros might not be right for the district. She said, “The funny thing is about turnout: when you fight for people they fight for you.”
Cisneros tells stories about her childhood as a Mexican immigrant to explain her policies. She explains her support for “Medicare For All” by telling voters that she sold steak plates to raise funds to pay for her aunt’s treatment for cancer.
She spoke out in support of immigrants in detention pro-bono to the crowd.
According to NBC News, she said that she is open to working with Republicans “if it’s in favor of district values.”
Cisneros criticized Cuellar for voting against the House’s abortion rights bill last September, and against Protect The Right to Organize Act which would alter labor organizing laws. Businesses opposed the labor bill, which was strongly supported by unions.
Cisneros stated that Henry Cuellar likes to pretend he is bipartisan. However, something like the Pro Act, which is key labor legislation, is truly bipartisan. He doesn’t support it.”