U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar says liberal groups from across the country “threw the whole kitchen sink” at him during the Congressional District 28 primary election, raising four to five million dollars for his challenger, Jessica Cisneros.

Longtime incumbent Cuellar, an attorney and small businessman from Laredo, barely won re-election, securing, according to unofficial numbers, 38,767 votes, or 51.8 percent.

Cisneros, an attorney who once worked in Cuellar’s congressional office, secured 36,021 votes, or 48.2 percent.

Asked what he learned from the election, Cuellar told the Rio Grande Guardian: “I learned that outside money can come fast and furious. We are looking at four to five million dollars that got spent against me. We saw that the progressives, you had three presidential candidates, all these different progressive groups, they all got together.”

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo

Presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren endorsed Cisneros. Cuellar said they and progressive groups are trying to purge the party of moderates like him.

“They just basically wanted to have a very far left member of Congress from District 28,” Cuellar said. “Think about it, 98.6 percent of the money came from outside of the district, four to five million dollars was spent.”

The Rio Grande Guardian interviewed Cuellar the day after his re-election victory. He said he found it ironic that liberal groups say they want to take money out of politics and yet they raised four to five million dollars to unseat him.

“They were sending emails as of yesterday, around 5 o’clock still asking for money. When you spend four to five million dollars from outside groups, that shows you the money these types of groups can raise.”

The Rio Grande Guardian asked Cuellar if he did not feel he was targeted because he is more conservative than all the other “moderates” in the Democratic caucus in Congress. By way of example it was posed to him that he is rare among Democrats in accepting campaign funding from the private prison industry. Cuellar responded:

“New York is very different from the border. I think you or I or anybody would agree with that. They had a lot of things in their favor, they threw the whole kitchen sink. They had a presidential election, they had Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren running. Those campaigns worked with my opponent. They had all these national groups. They put in four to five million dollars against me. They had a perfect storm and they came up short. That storm is not going to be there next time.”

The day after his the election, Cuellar flew to Washington, D.C., to vote on legislation to  appropriate more money for the battle against the coronavirus. He said that when he was on the House floor he was approached by fellow “moderates” who were grateful that he had won.

“I just got off the floor. I spoke to several members. They came up and thanked me. They said, Henry, thank you so much for winning last night,” Cuellar said. “They wanted to make sure I won because otherwise it would have created a momentum in their race.”

Cuellar said he had just been shown an email from a progressive group called Justice Democrats.

“They said, okay we are moving from Cuellar to Eliot Engel from New York. We are going to go after him. The same attacks they had on me, they are saying the same thing. Almost exactly the same thing, except for oil and gas, but they are saying the same thing about them. I had many members on the floor say, thank you for winning last night, because that would have created a momentum against them.”

Another “moderate the progressives are “going after,” Cuellar said is Jerry Nadler, also from New York.

“Jerry Nadler is the head of the judiciary committee and they are going after him. I voted to impeach the president. He took the lead on the impeachment of the president and they are going after him. To them, they just want to get their people in there. I just happened to be the first one. I just happened to be the bellwether district. If they would have won last night, all those members I talked to on the floor, there would have been this momentum, this money, going after them.”

Another reporter asked Cuellar felt betrayed by Julian Castro, the former San Antonio mayor and Housing & Urban Development secretary who endorsed Cisneros. Speaking in Spanish, Cuellar response:

“It’s sad. This person, Don Julian, whom I’ve known for many years, whose efforts I wholeheartedly supported, whom I worked with when he was Secretary of HUD, to obtain housing money, made this decision. Now, it appears that the two candidates that he supported, Elizabeth Warren and my opponent, both lost. For Mr. Castro, I wish the best for him in the future.”

Cuellar added that he wanted to thank the voters of District 28 for displaying confidence in him and he wanted to wish his challenger best wishes for her future endeavors. “I want to wish her the best.”

Cuellar added: “The voters of District 28 want to big tent party where moderates are also welcome.”