— (The Hill) As nine-term incumbent Rep. Henry Cuellar (D) deals with the impact of an FBI raid on his house last week, Republicans and progressive Democrats alike say they are feeling better about their prospects in Texas’ 28th Congressional District.
Supporters of Cuellar’s progressive primary rival, Jessica Cisneros, say the discovery enables them to cast Cuellar, one of the House’s most conservative Democrats, as corrupt and out of touch, a campaign theme they had been pounding even before the news came.
“He’s been tainted by money and being in power for too long,” a Cisneros campaign insider claimed. “This will make it simpler for people to comprehend.”
Republicans, on the other hand, claim that the raid puts them in a win-win scenario.
“Democrats in South Texas are facing their worst nightmare situation, with either avowed socialist Jessica Cisneros or corrupt Congressman Henry Cuellar on the ballot,” Torunn Sinclair, a spokesperson for the National Republican Congressional Committee, stated.
According to CBS News, the raid on Cuellar’s residence is part of a federal probe into U.S. businesspeople and Azerbaijan. Cuellar was a member of the House Azerbaijan Caucus and served as its co-chair.
On Tuesday, Cuellar issued a video message in front of his boyhood home, rejecting any misconduct and stating that he intended to remain in the race.
Cuellar said, “I am completely collaborating with law enforcement and dedicated to ensuring that justice and the law are maintained.” “An inquiry is continuing, and the results will prove that I did nothing wrong.”
“I’m proud to be your congressman and to always do things honestly, ethically, and correctly,” he concluded.
“This is my home, my neighborhood, and the reason I became involved in politics.” Nothing will be able to keep me from doing what I’ve always done for you and South Texas. To be clear, I’m running for reelection and plan to win.”
Cisneros’ campaign issued its own statement on the topic last week, stating that campaign members were aware of the investigation’s revelations but were focused on their own work.
The raid occurs less than two months before the March 1 primary election in the state. In 2020, Cuellar beat Cisneros by a little over 3 points. Tannya Benavides is also running in the Democratic primary in the district.
“I believe he’ll make it if he can get out of the primary.” “I believe it’s a genuine significant danger in the primary,” one political consultant in Texas said.
The primary election campaign is gaining steam. Cisneros launched her campaign’s first television commercial of the season on Tuesday, emphasizing her support for “Medicare for All.” Over the weekend, Cuellar published his own commercial, describing how the American ideal has helped him and his family succeed.
The San Antonio Express-News, which backed Cuellar over Cisneros in 2020, endorsed Cisneros on Monday. Cisneros was also backed by Our Revolution on Monday as part of the group’s first round of 2022 candidates.
“I do believe she was competitive before to the FBI raids, but this further strengthens her position that Henry Cuellar is too old and too Washington,” said Waleed Shahid, a spokeswoman for the Justice Democrats, which has backed Cisneros.
Prior to the primary, a source close to Cisneros’ campaign stressed that the campaign was laser-focused on kitchen table problems.
“We know what Jessica is running on, and it’s the same stuff she campaigned on last time,” the source said, listing health-care access, reproductive rights, and employment opportunities as examples.
“How we approach the race doesn’t really alter,” the person continued. “It simply means there are more eyes on it as the main season approaches.”
Some people are skeptical.
Cuellar’s name is still well-known, and he maintains a sizable donor base. Furthermore, participation is lower in midterm election years, which experts believe will favor Cuellar against Cisneros.
“I believe the issue will be will his name recognition and $2 million practically surpass what the Cisneros campaign is attempting to achieve?” Chuck Rocha, a Democratic strategist and former aide to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) presidential campaigns in 2016 and 2020, agreed.
While the Democratic establishment, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), tried to elevate Cuellar ahead of his 2020 race, Democrats in Washington have remained deafeningly quiet in the aftermath of the raid. When questioned about it during a news conference on Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki answered “no comment.”
“It’s quite evident that hanging on to the House is extremely difficult as it is,” the Texas political consultant said, adding that party leaders becoming engaged in a front-line district that shouldn’t be a front-line district while an FBI investigation is ongoing would be a poor look.
A shifting political scenario might also help Cisneros. Even in a midterm year, progressives’ growing anger with moderate politicians in Washington, as well as new political faces like Texas gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke, might help fuel participation. Despite the fact that O’Rourke has not backed Cisneros and is not campaigning for her, analysts think that his efforts to increase passion and turnout might work to her advantage.
“I’ve heard that even though he doesn’t have a genuine competitive primary, he’s conducting a GOTV [get-out-the-vote] primary campaign in the field because he wants to assist down-ballot Democrats to get out the vote all the way around, which obviously helps Jessica,” Rocha added.
Republicans, like progressives, saw the raid as a win for them in the district. In 2020, the party hopes to capitalize on advances achieved by former President Donald Trump and other Republicans in south Texas. Despite the fact that the nonpartisan Cook Political Report puts Texas’ 28th Congressional District as leaning to Democrats, Republicans continue to see it as a possible pickup chance.
Seven Republicans have registered to run in the district so far, including Cassy Garcia, a former employee for Texas Senator Ted Cruz (R), and Sandra Whitten, who lost to Cuellar by over 20 points in the 2020 general election. Garcia has Cruz’s official support.
One national Republican strategist said, “We feel quite confident about this district.” “It’ll either be a personal assault on Cuellar for his wrongdoing or a straight-up policy-based case against Cisneros,” says the source.
“In any case, we’re in a stronger position in this district than we were two weeks ago,” the strategist added.
Republicans claim that Cuellar was already a moderate and that their message on the economy, crime, and the border would resonate with his supporters more than Cisneros’.
“Henry Cuellar has been hammering her on wanting to defund the cops and all of these other topics that we want to run on but can’t run against him on,” said the GOP strategist.
Cisneros’ supporters dismissed the idea that the district may be a Republican pick-up chance.
“I understand why they think that,” a person close to her campaign said. “That’s most likely a talking point they’re using to drum up support for their fundraiser.”