(CN) — Henry Cuellar, a longtime South Texas congressman, narrowly won his Democratic primary runoff against a progressive rival who criticized his opposition to abortion and accused him of accepting funding from Republican-backed PACs.
Cuellar, 66, edged immigration attorney Jessica Cisneros by 289 votes in a recount of the May 24 primary for Texas’ 28th Congressional District, which extends from Laredo on the Mexico border to the suburbs of San Antonio.
The Associated Press called the race for Cuellar Tuesday.
A devout Catholic, Cuellar has served in the House since 2005 and is the chamber’s last remaining anti-abortion Democrat.
He took a hit in January when the FBI raided his Laredo home and campaign headquarters reportedly looking for records related to his ties to Kemal Oksuz, a former Houston businessman, who pleaded guilty in 2018 to his role in concealing that Azerbaijan’s state-owned oil company had paid for a trip 10 U.S. congressmen took to the one-time Soviet nation.
Two days after the raids, a federal grand jury issued subpoenas to Cuellar and his wife for records related to Oksuz.
At the time Cuellar, who once served as co-chair of the Congressional Azerbaijan Caucus, said he was fully cooperating with the FBI’s probe and was confident it would show he did nothing wrong.
Cisneros, 29, said the raids added to the “already serious concerns about the congressman’s long history of corruption and delivering for his corporate donors instead of our voters here in Texas.” She followed up her attacks in a campaign ad accusing Cuellar of introducing anti-immigration bills with Republicans and pointing out that he was the sole House Democrat to vote against a bill in March 2021 that would strengthen the rights of employees to join labor unions.
Cisneros, who once interned for Cuellar, also ran against the nine-term congressman in the 2020 primary and lost by just 2,700 votes.
Pundits saw the contest as a proxy battle between establishment and progressive Democrats. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina endorsed Cuellar, while Cisneros drew the support of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
The daughter of Mexican immigrant farmworkers, Cisneros ran on a far-left platform of Medicare for All — noting that many South Texans go to Mexico for its affordable health care compared to high costs in the U.S. — a $15 minimum wage and addressing climate change through passage of Green New Deal legislation.
She also said she would fight for passage of a bill to protect women’s right to abortions, in contrast to Cuellar, the only House Democrat to vote against a 2021 bill to codify such protections called the Women’s Health Protection Act.
And her campaign got a boost in early May with Politico’s publication of a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion indicating the court’s conservative justices will overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that established a constitutional right to abortion, in an opinion the court is expected to release in the coming days.
The close race led Big River Media, an advertising firm with ties to Cuellar, to attack Cisneros’ character with billboard ads in Laredo with the words “Jessica Cisneros Is a Home Wrecker” — an apparent reference to an article the New York Post published in March — stamped over her photo alongside accusations that she wants to defund police, firefighters, the Border Patrol, increase crime and taxes and eliminate oilfield jobs.
Cuellar claimed he had nothing to do with the billboards.
Cisneros vowed to continue pressing for change in Texas.
“I look forward to keep fighting for a more progressive and accountable Democratic Party and work to turn Texas blue in November,” she wrote on Twitter.
Cuellar will face Republican candidate Cassy Garcia in the November general election.Follow @cam_langford
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