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Henry Cuellar Narrowly Defeats Jessica Cisneros In TX-28 Democratic Primary

Henry Cuellar (TX-28) faces his first serious primary challenge from Jessica Cisneros.
Henry Cuellar (TX-28) faces his first serious primary challenge from Jessica Cisneros.

The Jessica Cisneros' campaign released a statement Wednesday morning saying she came just shy of defeating incumbent Henry Cuellar for the democratic primary seat of Texas' 28th Congressional District

“This is just the beginning. The first thing we had to defeat was the culture of fear — and our movement was victorious in proving we're within striking distance of bringing fundamental change to South Texas,” the statement said.

Here are the latest results from the Texas Secretary of State

Made with Flourish

The race drew attention nationwide as a microcosm of the rift between progressives and moderates within the Democratic Party. 

Cuellar, a moderate, has represented the district for 15 years, and his reelection bid recieved the support of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as well as more than 100 local leaders.

This year, he faced his first serious primary challenge. Cisneros, a 26-year-old immigration attorney, is running against Cuellar on a progressive platform that has earned her comparisons to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Cisneros has been backed by presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

On Tuesday night, supporters of both campaigns waited anxiously while counties experienced delays in counting votes. Cuellar did not appear as planned at his campaign event, while Cisneros appeared briefly toward the end of the night to address supporters. 

Cuellar’s election party kicked off around 7 p.m. at the Montecarlo in Laredo. The mood was festive and optimistic while bands and performers entertained the crowd.

As the hours dragged by without clear results, the energy in the room deflated. Supporters trickled out, and by 10:45 p.m., his staff announced that Cuellar would not be attending the election party.

A spokesperson for Cuellar’s campaign, Colin Strother, said, “We are cautiously optimistic. We never call a race until every vote is counted.” According to the campaign, Cuellar is returning to Washington D.C. to participate in a vote regarding the coronavirus and will likely be unavailable to comment on the race until next weekend. 

Cisneros took the stage around 11 p.m. at her campaign’s watch party in Laredo with a microphone in hand.

“This fight has always been about an opportunity to prove how one of us, a brown girl from our community, with her whole community behind her, can take on an entire machine,” she told a crowd of cheering supporters.

Cisneros said her goal is to forge a Democratic party that’s more representative of working people, immigrants, women, and young people.

“Regardless of what happens tonight, our movement has already won,” said Cisneros. “The day you start to beat a machine is the day that we stand up.”

Neither candidate has declared victory in the race. 

Cisneros has run a campaign focused on healthcare and environmental reform, while Cuellar has emphasized his bipartisan track record promoting business, trade and border security.

Cuellar has raised $1.7 million this election cycle according to FEC filings, with his top donors coming from the oil and gas industry and the private prison industry, while Cisneros has raised $1.3 million, with money coming in mostly from small donors.

The 28th Congressional District in South Texas spans more than 9,000 square miles from San Antonio to the border cities of Laredo and McAllen. The mostly rural and Latino district includes some of the poorest zip codes in the state. According to Census Data, about 24% of people in the district live below the poverty line.

In November, Henry Cuellar will appear on the ballot alongside Sandra Whitten, who is running unopposed in the Republican primary.