LAREDO, Texas – The Democrat who came close to defeating Congressman Henry Cuellar in the District 28 primary said her community benefited from her candidacy.
Jessica Cisneros, an attorney from Laredo who once worked in Cuellar’s congressional office, secured, according to unofficial results, 36,021 votes, or 48.2 percent.
Longtime incumbent Cuellar, an attorney and small businessman from Laredo, barely won re-election, unofficially secured 38,767 votes, or 51.8 percent.
The result was much closer than many political pundits predicted, particularly at the start of the race.
“This campaign from the very beginning was always about uplifting the stories of our border community,” Cisneros said.
In a video message to supporters the day after her defeat, Cisneros said it was an easy decision for her to run in the CD 28 primary.
“The decision to run was easy because I still saw so many families that were suffering from the challenges I faced when growing up. The high poverty rates, the inhumane immigration laws, the fact that there are still so many people who do not have healthcare and that there are so many who have lost family members because they cannot afford care,” she said.
Cisneros said no one could have foreseen how big a campaign operation she ending up mounting.
“I am so proud because this super scrappy South Texas team showed that when you invest and believe in this community, when you give us the resources and the mentorship, we will always rise up to the challenge. Last night was testament to that. We exceeded all expectations,” Cisneros said.
“We forced him (Cuellar) to spend over $2 million of his war chest and to work for his job. And we moved him on a number of issues, from impeachment to the minimum wage. And we raised more money than any primary challenger to an incumbent in recent history. And we built a movement that spans our district, the state and the country. We built an incredibly strong organizing operation.”
Cisneros said her campaign should not be judged on who won or lost.
“This victory was always going to be measured by teaching ourselves the skills to organize, by teaching ourselves and investing in ourselves to be able to have the tools to step up and uplift our community. We were able to accomplish that.”
Despite outspending Cuellar with millions of dollars from outside District 28, Cisneros said “the establishment machine and corporate money” went to her opponent.
“They saw the hope that was starting to brew here in South Texas. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Koch network and others poured money into this last minute effort.”
She said that money was used to run “desperate and false negative” advertisements against her. “Obviously the boss system, the patrón system in South Texas run into full effect. But, I think we showed what is possible when our community rallied behind ourselves.”
Cisneros said that going forward, her community must not be afraid of trying to unseat entrenched incumbents.
“The biggest thing holding us back from pursuing change is the use of fear by the status quo. The fear of change and the fear of the future. The only way we can defeat fear is with courage and determination and that, as the richest country in the world, we all deserve to thrive,” Cisneros said.
“I have always said, from the beginning, our values down here in South Texas are hardworking familia. And when you give us the opportunity, we always rise up to the challenge. And that I what this campaign has been about, fighting for that opportunity.”
Cisneros said she and her legions of supporters are educating the community to demand more than the status quo.
“The fact that we were able to get within three or four points just shows there are so many people out there that share the same idea and beliefs that we do, that we do deserve better.”
Cisneros said the way South Texas is being depicted at the national level is inaccurate.
She said she would “keep fighting to create a more progressive and accountable Democratic Party this year and obviously work to turn Texas blue up and down the ticket in November.”
“This fight was an opportunity to prove that a brown girl from the border, with her full community behind her, can take on the machine and bring hope to South Texas. We accomplished that. And we are going to keep fighting, we are going to keep organizing and we are going to make sure we are shining a positive, bright spotlight on the injustices of our community.”
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above story shows Jessica Cisneros with some of her supporters.