Progressives closely watched the results from three congressional races in Texas on Tuesday. Democratic socialist Greg Casar landed a strong win in the open primary in Texas’s 35th Congressional District, which stretches from San Antonio to Austin, leading his closest Democratic rival, state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, by over 40 points as of Tuesday night.
In Texas’s 28th Congressional District, Jessica Cisneros’s strong showing forced the troubled South Texas incumbent, Rep. Henry Cuellar, into a runoff. And progressives scored another win in the South Dallas-based 30th District, where state Rep. Jasmine Crockett held a commanding 31-point lead over her closest rival in a crowded field, though she fell just shy of the 50-percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff.
Sen. Bernie Sanders-endorsed attorney general candidate Lee Merritt received only around 19 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary, though he may still advance. Still-ongoing vote counting puts him less than a tenth of a percentage point away from securing a place in the runoff election against former American Civil Liberties Union attorney Rochelle Garza.
Activist groups like Justice Democrats, which supported Cisneros and Casar, have been touting the races as potential indicators that the Democratic base is hungry for liberals who will fight harder for Biden’s agenda. The hope was that Democrats could make up losses with working-class voters and Republican-trending Latino voters by doubling down on populist economics and leaning into support for immigration and policing reforms.
It’s still unclear who Casar — an outspoken progressive with a tumultuous tenure on the Austin City Council — will face in the general election. Republicans Dan McQueen and Michael Rodriguez advanced to a May 24 runoff for their party’s nomination. But the newly drawn district is one of the most Democratic-leaning in the nation.
“Greg Casar shows up for working people, and they showed up for him,” said Texas Working Families Party co-Director Pedro Lira in a statement. “This victory is a result of the work he put in as a public servant. We were with Greg from day one, and look forward to working with him to make America work for all of us.”
Casar, now 32, became the youngest person ever elected to the Austin City Council in 2014, representing a working-class section of the city. The son of Mexican immigrants, he is a longtime activist since college who has worked closely with the city’s immigrant rights movement. Derided by conservatives as a radical and celebrated by many of his supporters as the same, he was a controversial figure on the council, having successfully championed the reallocation of some of the police budget to social services — in other words, defunding the police — and clashing with the police union and police chief. (The local GOP and police union’s effort to overturn the funding move failed at the ballot.)
Voters ultimately rejected another high-profile effort of Casar’s, a new law lifting Austin’s ban on the use of tents by homeless people in the city. As soon as it went into effect, backlash ensued and voters overturned the law, banning tents again. Casar’s more moderate opponents have painted him as the poster child for Democratic excess, coming at a time of extreme self-doubt and finger-pointing among Democratic leaders.
During the campaign, Casar also drew controversy over his refusal to support a boycott of Israel or the withholding of U.S. military funding to the country. He withdrew his request for an endorsement from the Democratic Socialists of America, of which he is a member, over the issue. At the same time, Democratic Majority for Israel, a moderate pro-Israel group, did not endorse in Cisneros or Casar’s races. It has, however, thrown its weight behind Jane Hope Hamilton in the open-seat race for the 30th District, where Hamilton hoped to keep Crockett from securing an outright win in a crowded field. Hamilton will face Crockett, who fell just short of winning the nomination outright in initial tallies, in a runoff after securing a second-place finish with 17 percent of the vote.
Casar’s closest competitors, Rodriguez and former San Antonio city council member Rebecca Viagran, each received less than 16 percent of the vote. Rodriguez raised roughly half as much money as Casar.
In the Laredo-based 28th District, Cisneros sought a rematch with longtime incumbent Cuellar after coming under 3,000 votes shy of unseating him in 2020. The border district went heavily for Sanders in 2020, but Cuellar’s long tenure and deep family ties proved insurmountable for Cisneros in their first match-up.
Cisneros, an attorney and former Cuellar intern whose background includes work in immigrant rights advocacy, has built her name recognition in preparation for another run, and a December poll of the race from the liberal group U.S. Term Limits showed her neck and neck with Cuellar. But in January, the race was upended by an FBI raid on Cuellar’s home as part of an investigation into his ties to Azerbaijani business interests. No independent polling of the race has been released since the raid, but the Cisneros campaign has hammered Cuellar over the ongoing investigation, saying it proves the campaign’s claims that Cuellar is corrupt and out of touch.
Cuellar has kept a low profile since the raid, and his campaign has suffered. Reports say his campaign is hoping to coast to victory off name recognition, given his family’s deep ties to the district. Cuellar has represented the area in Congress since 2005. His brother, Martin Cuellar, has served as Webb County sheriff since 2008, and his sister, Rosie Cuellar, is the Laredo municipal judge. While enthusiasm for Cuellar on the ground has been relatively muted since the FBI raid in January, a suspicious surge in online support emerged in recent weeks on Twitter and Facebook.
Henry Cuellar’s bot army appears to be highly active on Facebook too. On the one hand this is all pretty funny, but his home was recently raided as part of an investigation into Azerbaijani corruption and that country is particularly known for deploying these bot armies. pic.twitter.com/K6wDDAbSkq
— Ryan Grim (@ryangrim) March 1, 2022
Update: March 2, 2022, 10:57 a.m. ET
This story has been updated with fresh tallies.
Update: March 4, 2022
This story has been updated with ongoing results.