Progressives look to Texas to continue their hot streak in 2022

Texas will conclude its 2022 primary runoff on Tuesday — and in doing so, progressives will finally see the outcome of a race that has kept the party’s far left wing on its toes for months.

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D) and two-time progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros both failed to get 50 percent of the vote in their first matchup in the Texas primary on March 1, leaving them in a runoff for the nomination this week force .

If Cisneros wins, it could be more fuel for progressives this cycle and add to the big wins in previous primaries, including John Fetterman in the Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary, Greg Casar in Texas’ 35th congressional district and Summer Lee in the 12th .of Pennsylvania. The jury is still out on whether progressive Jamie McLeod-Skinner will join their ranks as votes are still being tallied in her race against incumbent Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR).

But if Cisneros loses, it could dampen the progressives’ momentum just as the primary is in full swing.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) at a rally in San Antonio with Cisneros on Friday framed the race as a battle against the billionaire class. “And maybe if we hit them hard enough, maybe they’ll learn that they can take their money, put it in their pockets and let people decide who they want,” Sanders said.

Sanders isn’t the only Cisneros ally who has worked on the ground in the months since the first primary. Progressive organizations, including the Justice Democrats, Sunrise Movement and others, have continued to support her candidacy throughout the runoff cycle. She has also received a number of new endorsements, including from Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

And Cisneros, an immigration lawyer by trade, has seen a surge in fundraising after it was revealed the Supreme Court’s draft decision would be overturned Roe v. calf. Last year, Cuellar was the only Democrat in the House of Representatives to vote against codification Roe v. calf into the law – and publicly claims that he is anti-abortion.

Cisneros has emphasized this difference between her and Cuellar throughout the campaign but the real danger of losing Roe v. calf could change its effect.

Joshua Blank, research director for the Texas Politics Project, told The Daily Beast Cuellar has been a consistent anti-abortion Democrat throughout his political career — and that voters in the county have not seemed bothered by that stance so far. But Cuellar voters have always operated under the premise Roe v. calf will be upheld in the nation’s highest court.

The latest leak, Blank said, could prompt some voters to reevaluate. “Cisneros certainly benefited from timing in this competition,” added Blank.

Following news of the draft decision, Catholic Cuellar released a statement saying he supports exceptions to abortion in cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother. “My faith does not allow me to support extreme positions such as late or partial birth abortion,” he added in the statement.

But the abortion issue adds another potential vulnerability to the congressman’s already complicated standing with voters this cycle following an FBI raid on his home in January.

The congressman has still not publicly shared details of the FBI raid on his home, which appears to be related to business ties in Azerbaijan, but the Justice Department has said Cuellar is not the focus of the investigation, according to his attorney.

The elapsed time since the raid seems to have given Cuellar some room to rest among his allies.

Ahead of the March 1 primary, Cuellar was somewhat cut off from the leadership ranks that had bolstered his candidacy in previous years. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer skipped their annual trip to Laredo, Texas to attend a parade with the congressman. His endorsers were noticeably calm.

And in the weeks leading up to Election Day, Cuellar was noticeably out of sight while Cisneros continued to bounce around the district, sometimes with high-profile politicians like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) in tow.

But in the 12 weeks between then and now, Cuellar was back in town. He has seen a fresh wave of confirmations, including from the Chamber of Commerce. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-DC), often referred to as the Democrat kingmaker, even came to the district to rally for Cuellar Voter turnout appeared to be low.

However, while Democratic leadership seems to be waning on the congressman, voters could be a different story.

In March, Cuellar received 48.6 percent of the vote, compared to Cisneros’ 46.7 percent. The remaining 4.7 percent went to a third contender, Tannya Benavides, who has since supported Cisneros.

But Cisneros also has to overcome a number of hurdles. Blank said one key factor could be working against them: voter turnout.

Primary elections in the midterm years are already low turnout events. Runoff elections are even worse, giving incumbent candidates with a long-term, reliable voter base an advantage. In this case, that’s Cuellar.

With that, Cisneros is attempting to reach her base a second time — and hopes the controversies that have plagued Cuellar this cycle are jarring enough to get voters going.

“Someone like Cuellar, who’s been elected multiple times in the district… it’s just a much simpler question than what Cisneros is trying to overcome,” Blank said. Progressives look to Texas to continue their hot streak in 2022


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