Progressive Democrats gain ground in Texas
Texas will hold the first primary election of the season on March 1, offering a first look at how progressives and their political platforms might fare in a particularly difficult midterm cycle. Democrats are bracing for a possible bloodbath, with House Democrats walking out en masse as the party prepares to defend shaky majorities in both chambers. But the Democratic exodus — and the general backlash from President Biden’s freshman performance — could also open a window for a more progressive slate of candidates competing in safe blue districts.
Two progressive candidates in Texas, Jessica Cisneros, a 28-year-old immigration lawyer, and Greg Casar, a former Austin City Councilman, have garnered national attention and support, winning support from lawmakers like Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Cisneros nearly defeated the “King of Laredo,” as Rep. Henry Cuellar is known, as a first-time 2020 candidate to within four percentage points of the nine-term incumbent.
She takes on Cuellar, a longtime fixture in South Texas politics and one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress, once again in the state’s 28th congressional district. He’s an anti-choice, anti-work Blue Dog with deep ties to the oil and gas industry. His right-wing political stances, as well as his dealings with Republican and corporate special interests, have also drawn the ire of some powerful establishment groups, including Emily’s List, Planned Parenthood and the Texas AFL-CIO, which all rallied to Cisneros instead.
Cisneros campaigns primarily on economic justice issues like health care, jobs and the rising cost of living, but she has also hammered Cuellar’s campaign against corruption. A recent FBI raid on Cuellar’s home and campaign office in Laredo further complicated an already troubled re-election bid. The raid was part of a larger federal investigation linked to Azerbaijan and several American businessmen, but it remains unclear why the FBI is specifically investigating him and his wife. Cuellar maintains that the investigation “will show that there was no wrongdoing on my part”.
But he refuses to debate Cisneros and has made few public appearances since the FBI raid. As HuffPost reported, three consultants to his campaign are gone, and party leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are nowhere to be found. Although they did not withdraw their official support for Cuellar, Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer did not fight for him in the latter part of the race as they did in 2020.
Apart from the decision to lay low, Cuellar’s campaign strategy remained consistent. His attacks on Cisneros largely mirrored GOP scare tactics around “open borders” and “defunding the police,” and he covered the airwaves in the district with ads.
Jhe primary race in Texas’ 35th congressional district, though it has received less national attention, is another possible pick-up opportunity for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Casar, a Democratic socialist and former labor organizer, is one of four Democrats vying to replace longtime Rep. Lloyd Doggett, who is running in a nearby newly created district instead. State Representative Eddie Rodriguez, the other leading candidate in the race, is also trying to portray himself as a progressive, pointing to his record as a liberal member of the state legislature. Casar has garnered high-profile endorsements from Democratic Reps. Jamaal Bowman and Sheila Jackson Lee, as well as the Justice Democrats, the progressive group best known for recruiting Ocasio-Cortez in 2018. He significantly outpaced his opponents, having raised more of $467,000 in campaign contributions, according to most documents filed with the Federal Election Commission.
But Casar, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, recently lost support from the Austin DSA chapter over his position on Israel-Palestine. A letter, which was obtained by Jewish insider, revealed that Casar opposes the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and has pledged to support US military assistance to Israel. A declaration published by the chapter’s executive committee said Casar’s position is “not reconcilable with DSA’s position in solidarity with Palestine”. Instead of backtracking on its promise, the Casar campaign asked Austin DSA to withdraw its endorsement.
“As socialists and internationalists, we recognize that Israel is an apartheid state which violates the human rights of Palestinians,” the statement continued. “We have worked with Greg Casar for a long time on health care, paid sick leave, police budgets, homelessness, housing justice, union rights, and more. We will continue to discuss this issue within our chapter and many individual members will continue to support the campaign, but we will no longer be working on this campaign as an organisation.
A new poll from Public Policy Polling found the former city councilman leading the pack, but falling short of the 50% needed to avoid a May 24 runoff. The poll, which was funded by the Working Families Party and Justice Democrats, polled likely voters in the district and found Casar seated at 42% and Rodriguez at 13%.
Texas’ 30th congressional district, which covers much of Dallas and other parts of Dallas County, will also see a competitive Democratic primary for the seat vacated by incumbent Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson. Freshman State Representative Jasmine Crockett, who was recruited and endorsed by Johnson, Jessica Mason, a Navy veteran and public housing administrator endorsed by Nina Turner and DSA North Texas, and Jane Hope Hamilton, a former Biden’s campaign staffer in Texas, are all top candidates. in the crowded field.