As I write this Wednesday morning, the Associated Press has just called this race. Henry Cuellar, a moderate Democrat has defeated progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros in Texas’ 28th district:
— AP Politics (@AP_Politics) March 4, 2020
TX-28 was one of the most-closely watched races on Super Tuesday. Cuellar is one of a handful of moderates which AOC, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Justice Democrats had sought to primary. Cisneros is expected to speak in about an hour but even before that the disappointment is rolling in:
The @DCCC & @SpeakerPelosi need to look themselves in the mirror this morning & realize their thumb on the scale narrowly protected an ANTI-LGBT+, ANTI-CHOICE, KOCH-BACKED NRA-BACKED, FOSSIL FUEL $$ SOAKED TRUMP SUPPORTER, but the Cuellar-Machine's days are numbered! #TX28 https://t.co/mCTtNfQRDD
— Our Revolution Texas (@OurRevTexas) March 4, 2020
To really appreciate what a big loss this is for the left, you have see how this race was built up. Here’s how HuffPost described the race on Monday:
In South Texas’s vast 28th Congressional District, progressive immigration attorney Jessica Cisneros, 26, is hoping to unseat conservative Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar, who is 64. Cuellar’s history of opposition to abortion rights, gun regulation and tougher union protections, as well as his support for the fossil fuel industry and some of President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, have earned him the enmity of an array of labor unions, reproductive rights and progressive groups…
A win for Cisneros “would show that progressivism, as exhibited by Ocasio-Cortez, can even reach into the recesses of South Texas,” said Texas politics expert Terence Garrett, who chairs the public affairs department at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. “It would be a dramatic shift.”…
The youth-led climate group Sunrise Movement is calling on its army of activists to make calls and knock on doors for Sanders, Cisneros and two other Democrats competing in primaries to take on incumbent Texas Republicans in the House. Sunrise’s calculation is that making electoral inroads in Texas, where the oil and gas industries are strongly influential, would be a major coup for the Green New Deal movement.
This was the big organizations of the left teaming up against Cuellar. And yet, it seems the support was mostly at a distance. Despite her endorsement, AOC never actually came to TX-28 to show support for Cisneros. Given how close the race was, that may have been a mistake. Nick Kiersey, a political science professor who supports Bernie Sanders told HuffPost: “AOC is venerated like a rock star down here. If she came down, if Bernie came down, it would be pure insanity.”
But that didn’t happen and a few moments ago Cisneros sent out a statement claiming a moral rather than an actual victory:
— Alex Clearfield (@AlexClearfield) March 4, 2020
There’s another reason this loss is a big one for AOC and especially Bernie Sanders. Sanders’ theory of the race is that he can afford to turn off some moderate voters because by being a bold progressive he’s going to attract a lot of people to the polls who otherwise might stay home. But as we’ve discussed before, that hasn’t happened so far.
Cisneros’ race in TX-28 was another proving ground for this theory of the race. Could a bold progressive challenger beat a conservative Democrat in a solidly blue district? You can think of it as a microcosm of the larger battle between Sanders and Biden or even between Sanders and Trump (if it comes to that). And the answer seems to be: Close but no cigar. It turns out a Trump-supporting, pro-life, pro-2nd Amendment Democrat beats a bold progressive even in a blue district. That should be worrying Bernie Sanders and his supporters this morning.
No comment on the outcome of the race so far from AOC or Justice Democrats. I’ll update this post if they react to the news. In the meantime, here’s a report from last August about Cisneros titled “This 26-year-old Running for Congress Wants to be the AOC of Texas.”
Update: Here’s AOC’s response.
I am so incredibly proud of Jessica Cisneros.
At 26 years old, she ran for office for the first time to offer TX28 new leadership that fights for workers, gender rights,& a climate agenda.
She stood up to Koch brother money & incumbency, & she came closer than anyone imagined. https://t.co/3NiBVMfDrf
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) March 4, 2020
And from the Executive Director of Justice Democrats:
After @AOC defeated Crowley, we didn’t have the element of surprise, and the party machine and big corporate donors on the other side fought us back hard.
This is just the beginning for Jessica, and it’s certainly not the end of the movement being built in #TX28.
— Alexandra Rojas (@alexandrasiera) March 4, 2020
So if bold progressives need the element of surprise to win elections, how is that supposed to work out for Bernie Sanders? Up above I mentioned Sanders theory of the race. Here’s more proof it isn’t happening:
Many young voters sat out Super Tuesday: "Exit polls for five southern states that Biden won – Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia – found that young voters did not show up at the polls in the numbers they did in 2016." https://t.co/xdk9u0IaxE
— Anil Kalhan (@kalhan) March 4, 2020