Texas Democrat Runoff 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 Could 24’s Democratic primaries.

When Cisneros first challenged Cueller in 2020, she was a 26-year outdated immigration lawyer, and the race was heralded as a contest between progressive and reasonable, younger and outdated. 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, successful by about four factors. Cisneros challenged Cueller once more this yr, and got here up just short of their March 1 major, a margin tight sufficient to set off a runoff. Now, after the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion that seems to sign the top of Roe v. Wade, the race has turn into a bellwether for the 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 ability of reproductive rights as an electoral challenge.

“It’s one factor to anticipate the placing down of your elementary 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 Gains Vex Democrats.

Progressive teams like Justice Democrats and the Working Households Get together have fashioned an unlikely alliance with extra mainstream abortion-rights organizations like EMILY’s Record and NARAL in help 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 ensure that now we have folks in Congress who will do what they will do to guard these rights as we have a look at the Supreme Courtroom very doubtless overturning them altogether,” says Christina Reynolds, a spokeswoman for EMILY’s Record.

The first additionally showcases the generational and ideological fault traces within the get together. Cuellar, who has been in Congress for almost 20 years, is supported by House Democratic leadership, pro-Israel groups, and and main industries, including oil and gas. 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.

Learn Extra: Inside AOC’s Unlikely Rise.

Cuellar allies say the liberal endorsements and nationwide consideration would possibly backfire in a spot like Texas. “You’ve gotten 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 shouldn’t be Laredo. However we’re Democrats and we’re proud Democrats.”

Different Texas politicos say they’re skeptical that abortion shall be as a lot of a difficulty as many count on. “I believe 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 selection being made a defining challenge.”

Observers in Texas additionally notice that the nationwide focus and ideological spin might find yourself hurting Cisneros with voters within the district. “There’s a pure resistance for folks 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 home and office. (Cuellar’s lawyer has mentioned 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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Write to Charlotte Alter at charlotte.alter@time.com.

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