Progressive Democrats Are Gaining Ground in Texas


Texas will hold the first primary elections of the season on March 1, providing an early look at how progressives and their policy platforms may fare in a particularly tough midterm cycle. Democrats are bracing for a possible bloodbath, with House Democrats retiring in droves as the party prepares to defend fragile majorities in both chambers. But the Democratic exodus—and the general backlash to President Biden’s first-year performance—could also open a window for a more progressive slate of candidates competing in safe blue districts.

Two progressive candidates in Texas, Jessica Cisneros, a 28-year-old immigration attorney, and Greg Casar, a former Austin City Council member, have garnered national support and attention, winning prominent endorsements from lawmakers like Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Cisneros nearly defeated the “King of Laredo,” as Representative Henry Cuellar is known, as a first-time candidate in 2020, coming within four percentage points of the nine-term incumbent.

She’s taking on Cuellar, a longtime fixture in South Texas politics and one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress, once again in the state’s 28th Congressional District. He’s an anti-choice, anti-labor Blue Dog with deep ties to the oil and gas industry. His right-wing policy positions, as well as his relationships to Republican and corporate special interests, have also angered some powerful establishment groups along the way, including Emily’s List, Planned Parenthood, and the Texas AFL-CIO, all of whom have rallied behind Cisneros instead.

Cisneros is campaigning primarily on economic justice issues like health care, jobs, and the rising cost of living, but she has also hammered Cuellar’s campaign over corruption. A recent FBI raid on Cuellar’s Laredo home and campaign office has further complicated an already troubled reelection bid. The raid was part of a broader federal investigation related to Azerbaijan and several US businessmen, but it’s still unclear why the FBI is specifically investigating him and wife. Cuellar maintains that the investigation “will show that there was no wrongdoing on my part.”

But he refuses to debate Cisneros and has made few public appearances since the FBI raid. As HuffPost reported, three consultants to his campaign have departed, and party leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are nowhere to be found. Though they didn’t pull their official support of Cuellar, Pelosi and House majority leader Steny Hoyer didn’t stump for him in the last stretch of the race like they did in 2020.

Besides the decision to lay low, Cuellar’s campaign strategy has remained consistent. His attacks on Cisneros largely mirror the GOP’s scare tactics around “open borders” and “defund the police,” and he’s been blanketing the district’s airwaves with ads.


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