Veritium Political Insights
Progressive Challenger Jessica Cisneros Looks to Defeat Moderate Incumbent Henry Cuellar in TX-28
Updated: Jan 25, 2022
TX-28 Democratic House Primary (March 1st Primary and May 24th Runoff)
The 2022 Midterm Primary season kicks off in Texas on March 1st, and Democrats around the country will closely be paying attention to the results in TX-28. Henry Cuellar is the only Democratic House Representative who is an underdog in their re-election primary.
The new TX-28 is similar to the old district, stretching from Laredo and the Rio Grande Valley in the south to the city of San Antonio in the north. Biden won the new TX-28 by 7 points in 2020, meaning the district is about 3 points left of the nation and is trending hard to the right. The district is over 70% Hispanic and voted for Hillary Clinton by 19 points in 2016.
Leftist attorney Jessica Cisneros challenged Cuellar in 2020 but came up barely short, losing by just 3 points. Cisneros is not only progressive—she supports Medicare for All, Congressional Term Limits, and overturning Citizens United—but Cuellar is also extremely moderate, even holding some conservative views. Cuellar is the only Democrat in the House who does not believe abortion should be legal and was one of three to vote for Kate’s Law, a piece of legislation introduced by Ted Cruz that lengthened the maximum sentence for immigrants who attempted to re-enter the US after being deported. In late 2021, Cuellar made headlines by joining fellow Blue Dog Democrats in a group dubbed “The Unbreakable Nine” who (unsuccessfully) attempted to derail President Joe Biden’s $3.5 trillion infrastructure package.
The FBI invaded Cuellar’s home on January 19th, 2022 in connection to a federal probe related to Azerbaijan’s “Caviar Diplomacy.” Cuellar holds close ties to Azerbaijan’s government and oil elite, lobbying for the country’s interests throughout his tenure in Congress. Azerbaijan has been widely criticized for sending expensive gifts to international lawmakers who supported their interests, including expensive boxes of caviar up to four times a year. Cuellar’s relationship with Azerbaijan is under investigation, and on January 21st a federal grand jury issued a subpoena for anything Cuellar may have received as a “gift” for supporting Azerbaijani interests in Congress.
Cisneros is popular among progressive elected officials and boasts endorsements from Elizabeth Warren, Jamal Bowman, Ayana Pressley, and Alexandria-Ocasio Cortez. Cuellar received endorsements from Nancy Pelosi and the DCCC in 2020 and has already received an endorsement from House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer for 2022.
While Cisneros does not accept any money from corporate PACs or contributions from lobbyists, Cuellar has raised over 40% of his money from PACs and nearly 10% from Oil and Gas PACs alone this cycle. Less than 1% of his donations are from small donors ($200 or lower). He has raised nearly three times as much money as Cisneros ($1,100,000 vs. $420,000), but Cisneros is certainly reasonably well funded for a primarily grassroots-funded challenger. Cisneros only has received about 1% of her total money from PACs.
Pragmatic Democrats who are focused on their party’s ability to maintain a house majority in the near future are generally expected to back Cuellar, even if their political views are significantly to the left of him. Veritium Insights’ statistical modeling gives Cuellar an 81% chance to win the general election if he is the nominee, but only gives Cisneros a 51% chance. Cuellar has extreme crossover appeal to Trump voters and has an extremely strong electoral record, outperforming Biden by over 15 points in TX-28 in 2020. Polling released before the FBI began its probe into Cuellar indicated that the race was a dead heat, with Cisneros holding a slight 36-35% lead. As the investigation drags on, we expect that Cisneros is likely to gain in polls. But Cuellar’s history and power in South Texas will persist and may keep this district closer than expected after the recent revelations.
Race Rating: Lean Cisneros