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Jessica Cisneros concedes to Rep. Cuellar in Texas primary runoff after recount

Cisneros said she would fight for a more progressive Democratic Party while conceding to Rep. Henry Cuellar in a race that attracted national attention.
Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, after a meeting of the House Democratic Caucus in the U.S. Capitol on June 8, 2022.
Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, after a meeting of the House Democratic Caucus in the U.S. Capitol on June 8, 2022.Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Imag

Progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros conceded to Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas on Tuesday after a recount and a repeat of their 2020 matchup, making Cuellar the Democratic nominee for November as he seeks a 10th congressional term.

The race was decided by less than 300 votes.

“We always knew this was an uphill battle. We were up against a corrupt political machine, Republican-funded Super PACs, the Koch brothers, private prisons, Big Oil, the Chamber of Commerce, dark money groups, Big Pharma, and nearly the entire Democratic Party establishment in Washington — and we still refused to back down," Cisneros said in a defiant concession statement. "With this close of a margin, it’s clear that without their aggressive interference in the lives of South Texas families, we would have won."

Cuellar issued a statement Tuesday declaring victory.

“It is now time to come together and win the General Election in November. I am an American, Texan, then a Democrat- in that order- and I will continue to fight for Texas values and not let coastal elites bring their failed agenda to our communities,” Cuellar said.

“I will continue to represent our values in South Texas and fight for your priorities: secure the border, lower taxes, supporting police & border patrol, and fighting to protect oil & gas jobs.”

Cuellar, a moderate Democrat representing the 28th Congressional District, was forced into a runoff with Cisneros after neither candidate won the 50 percent needed to secure the nomination during the March 1 primary. He defeated her in the same primary two years ago.

Cuellar's victory this time around comes after Cisneros filed for a recount in the May 24 primary runoff after the Texas Democratic Party said earlier this month that fewer than 300 votes separated the two candidates.

As of Tuesday, Cuellar was ahead by 289 votes in the May 24 primary, according to a tally of results by NBC News, which projected Cuellar as the winner.

In March, Cisneros garnered 46.6 percent of the vote to Cuellar’s 48.7 percent. Cisneros lost in 2020, coming within 2,700 votes of Cuellar, who won the primary outright with 52 percent of the vote.

Image: Bernie Sanders Joins Candidate Jessica Cisneros For A Campaign Rally Ahead Of Tuesday's Runoff Election
Progressive Democratic Congressional candidate Jessica Cisneros speaks to supporters at a campaign rally on May 20, 2022 in San Antonio, Texas.Jordan Vonderhaar / Getty Images file

The National Republican Congressional Committee, the campaign arm of House Republicans, is aiming to flip the 28th Congressional District in November. The NRCC has listed the district, which is 78.2 percent Latino, as one of more than a dozen new midterm targets.

In the final weeks of the campaign, the rematch between Cuellar and Cisneros was largely reframed as a test of whether Democrats would continue to back candidates who oppose abortion rights after a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion indicated Roe v. Wade is likely to be overturned this summer. Cisneros, 29, had cast Cuellar, 66, as being out of step with the rest of the party on the issue.

In September, Cuellar was the only House Democrat to vote against legislation aimed at codifying protections under Roe after Texas enacted a law banning most abortions. Cisneros, who had carved out support from national progressive and abortion rights groups, later demanded that Democratic congressional leaders withdraw their support for Cuellar. The incumbent had already secured endorsements from key House leaders, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., appeared alongside Cuellar at a campaign rally in San Antonio earlier this month.

Cuellar defended his abortion stance, citing his Catholic faith, but said in a statement that he opposed an outright ban on the procedure, saying there “must be exceptions in the case of rape, incest and danger to the life of the mother.”

Cisneros, meanwhile, received endorsements from progressive Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and Reps. Jamaal Bowman and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., campaigned with Cisneros at a rally in May.

The two candidates also splintered over immigration, particularly whether the Biden administration should end the Trump-era policy known as Title 42 that severely limits asylum seekers from entering the U.S. due to the pandemic. Cisneros has criticized the policy, while Cuellar warned against lifting it.

Cisneros, who called Cuellar "anti-immigrant" in the final days of the primary campaign, is the daughter of Mexican immigrants who obtained citizenship through a 1986 immigration law. Cuellar was born to migrant farm workers in Laredo, Texas. He is one of eight children.

Earlier this year, the FBI raided Cuellar's home and campaign office as part of an investigation into ties of U.S. businessmen to Azerbaijan. Cuellar has has denied any wrongdoing and said the FBI’s investigation would clear him.