There was a spirited Democratic primary in the congressional district of Laredo in Texas where the incumbent Democrat Henry Cuellar was challenged by a young 26-year old progressive Jessica Cisneros, who failed narrowly, by a margin of 51.8% to 48.2%. Although this is a safe Democratic seat, Cuellar is pretty much a Republican and is backed by business and other right-wing forces and the party establishment.
The Laredo lawmaker is one of the most conservative Democratic House members in the country, a record that attracted a spirited challenge from Cisneros, a 26-year-old attorney who waged an insurgent campaign that presented a sharp contrast with Cuellar. Cisneros touted support for Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, and opposition to draconian immigration enforcement measures.
Despite representing a relatively safe Democratic seat in south Texas, Cuellar votes consistently with the Republican Party. He sided with the GOP in some 75 percent of his recent votes, including on measures against expanding worker access to labor unions and in support of repealing restrictions on predatory lending. Cuellar previously served in the cabinet of Republican Gov. Rick Perry and has been outspoken in his defense of President Donald Trump on contentious issues, including the president’s decision to assassinate Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani.
Dark money flooded the district, with undisclosed cash from the American Bankers Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and a new group called American Workers for Progress, used to boost Cuellar over the last month. Cuellar is a favorite among the business lobbying community. Emails obtained by The Intercept show the lawmaker routinely providing favors for a border security company seeking contracts with the government after providing Cuellar with campaign contributions.
But the race provided a vivid display of the power of entrenched political interests from across the political aisle. Americans for Prosperity Action, the Super PAC founded and funded by right-wing billionaire Charles Koch, intervened in the race to support Cuellar, the very first time the group has supported a Democrat. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus both worked to raise money for Cuellar over the last month.
Cuellar, like Dan Lipinski in Illinois, is a member of the Blue Dog Democratic caucus that is essentially quasi-Republican and opposes much of what the Democratic party claims to stand for. But Nancy Pelosi worked hard to support Cuellar and Lipinski even though they represent safe Democratic districts, showing where her sympathies and politics really lie. The fact that Cuellar had such a tough re-election fight is a sign that voters are beginning to realize that such congresspersons are not serving the interests of ordinary people. Let’s see what happens with Lipinski’s primary challenge by a progressive Marie Newman in the primary to be held in two weeks on March 17.