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Jessica Cisneros

Democratic candidate Jessica Cisneros, running for Texas' 28th Congressional District, speaks during the "Get Out the Vote" rally on February 12, 2022 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

On Eve of Cisneros-Cuellar Showdown, Progressives Feel 'Sense of Hope'

"We will not settle for anti-choice, fossil fuel-funded candidates like Henry Cuellar," said Ezra Oliff-Lieberman with the Sunrise Movement. "It's time to step up."

Andrea Germanos

Supporters of Jessica Cisneros' bid to represent Texas' 28th District are making their final pitches for the progressive challenger on Monday as they hope to prevent anti-choice Democrat Henry Cuellar from holding a 10th term.

Cisneros and Cuellar will face off Tuesday in a runoff since neither candidate crossed the 50% threshold in March. It's the second time Cisneros is up against Cuellar for the South Texas seat after her narrow loss in 2020.

"Tomorrow is primary day," tweeted the Working Families Party. "It's time to push @JCisnerosTX over the finish line."

The Sunrise Movement is also among the progressive groups backing 28-year-old Cisneros and on Monday touted "one million dials, texts, and doors knocked" for her campaign.

"This is people power in action, and we are sending a message from young people to the Democratic establishment: We will not settle for anti-choice, fossil fuel-funded candidates like Henry Cuellar. It's time to step up," said Ezra Oliff-Lieberman, an organizer with Sunrise Electoral.

Sixty-six-year-old Cuellar—dubbed "Big Oil's Favorite Democrat" and who last year was the sole House Democrat to vote against both the worker rights-strengthening PRO Act and the Women's Health Protection Act, which would codify the right to abortion care into federal law—has the backing of House Democratic leadership.

Cisneros, meanwhile, has won support from a handful of left-leaning members of Congress including Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the latter of whom held a rally in San Antonio Friday for the U.S. House hopeful.

"After some time around town," Sanders said in a text message to supporters on Monday, "I believe the people of TX-28 are ready to elect a fighter for the working class."

"I believe the people are ready to oust the last anti-choice Democrat in Congress," he added. "I believe the people are ready to beat over $1 MILLION in super PAC spending."

He expressed hope that "if we stand united behind Jessica, she can win tomorrow and become the next member of Congress from TX-28."

The Democratic establishment's support for Cuellar, meanwhile, was thrown into sharp relief after a leaked draft opinion revealed the U.S. Supreme Court's right-wing majority appears poised to soon overturn Roe v. Wade.

In light of that draft, "the runoff is being closely watched for clues about whether the issue [of abortion] will animate Democratic voters," The Associated Press reported, and pointed to "an infusion of money that outside groups have poured on the ground and across TV in South Texas" being "an indicator of an important race" that may "provide insight about the direction of the Democratic Party."

Vox reported in February:

Texas's 28th District is more moderate than the districts where progressives have succeeded in knocking off incumbents in recent years. Biden won the newly drawn version of the district by just 7 points in 2020, compared to the more than 60 points he won by in the Missouri district where now-Rep. Cori Bush felled a longtime incumbent that year.

A Cisneros victory would demonstrate that progressives are able to win a primary in places that aren't solidly blue, and it would be a testament to the ability of such challengers to connect with a range of Democratic base voters.

"It would really be a David and Goliath moment," says Mike Siegel, the political director of progressive advocacy group Ground Game Texas.

Jen Ramos, a member of the State Democratic Executive Committee for the Texas Democratic Party who's been campaigning for Cisneros, talked to The Guardian about the race and asserted that Cueller and his campaign haven't had real engagement with the district.

She suggested Cisneros has brought a breath of fresh air.

"I think that Jessica's race is the very first time in a long time that the region and the community has seen the sense of hope," she told the outlet.

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