A Runoff Between Texas Democrats Becomes a Battle Over Abortion

Once she was his intern; now she’s his opponent. However that’s not the one factor that makes the battle between Jessica Cisneros and Rep. Henry Cuellar in south Texas among the many most intriguing of Might 24’s Democratic primaries.

When Cisneros first challenged Cueller in 2020, she was a 26-year previous immigration lawyer, and the race was heralded as a contest between progressive and reasonable, younger and previous. The progressive motion positioned Cisneros within the vein of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, citing the race as proof of its potential to win outdoors liberal areas.

However the longtime incumbent dispatched Cisneros, profitable by about 4 factors. Cisneros challenged Cueller once more this yr, and got here up simply quick of their March 1 major, a margin tight sufficient to set off a runoff. Now, after the leaked Supreme Court docket draft opinion that seems to sign the top of Roe v. Wade, the race has develop into a bellwether for a way a lot Democratic voters care about abortion.

Cueller is the final anti-abortion Democrat within the Home, and Cisneros has campaigned closely on abortion rights. A victory, her allies say, would exhibit the facility of reproductive rights as an electoral challenge.

“It’s one factor to anticipate the placing down of your basic freedoms. It’s one other factor to see it in actual time,” says Cisneros. “He may very well be a deciding vote on the way forward for reproductive freedom on this nation.” (Cuellar didn’t reply to a request for remark.)

Learn Extra: Trump’s South Texas Beneficial properties Vex Democrats.

Progressive teams like Justice Democrats and the Working Households Celebration have shaped an unlikely alliance with extra mainstream abortion-rights organizations like EMILY’s Checklist and NARAL in assist of Cisneros, illustrating the race’s relevance to the nationwide battle over reproductive rights.

“We’ve got a standard curiosity right here: to elect a pro-choice candidate and unseat the final anti-choice Democrat within the Home,” says Waleed Shahid, a spokesman for Justice Democrats, which recruits and helps progressive challengers to reasonable Democrats.

In interviews with Cisneros and her allies, that objective was emphasised above different progressive coverage targets, like Medicare for All, a Inexperienced New Deal, and a $15 minimal wage.

“There’s by no means been a extra necessary time to be sure that we now have individuals in Congress who will do what they’ll do to guard these rights as we have a look at the Supreme Court docket very probably overturning them altogether,” says Christina Reynolds, a spokeswoman for EMILY’s Checklist.

The first additionally showcases the generational and ideological fault strains within the social gathering. Cuellar, who has been in Congress for practically 20 years, is supported by Home Democratic management, pro-Israel teams, and and main industries, together with oil and gasoline. Cisneros, who had by no means run for workplace earlier than difficult Cuellar in 2020, has collected endorsements from progressive stars like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez.

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Cuellar allies say the liberal endorsements and nationwide consideration would possibly backfire in a spot like Texas. “You could have a candidate who appears guided and influenced and recruited to run by pursuits from New York and California,” says Richard Peña Raymond, a Democrat who represents Laredo within the Texas Home of Representatives. “We’re not Queens. And Queens will not be Laredo. However we’re Democrats and we’re proud Democrats.”

Different Texas politicos say they’re skeptical that abortion will probably be as a lot of a difficulty as many anticipate. “I feel there’s been an over emphasis on that,” says Matt Angle, a Texas Democratic strategist who’s unaffiliated within the race. “There’s a resistance to alternative being made a defining challenge.”

Observers in Texas additionally word that the nationwide focus and ideological spin could find yourself hurting Cisneros with voters within the district. “There’s a pure resistance for individuals in Texas to the race being nationalized,” Angle provides. “Folks resent the East Coast, West Coast and Washington individuals who don’t know Texas from Toledo coming in and saying they’re gonna flip issues blue.”

Cisneros’s allies have additionally highlighted a January FBI raid on Cuellar’s house and workplace. (Cuellar’s lawyer has stated he’s “not a target” within the investigation.) And the challenger believes the wind is at her again.

“We have been a really underdog marketing campaign, and we nonetheless are,” says Cisneros. “However we’ve been scaffolding on the progress we’ve been making each single spherical.”

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