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After a recount, Cuellar edges Cisneros in a closely watched Texas Democratic primary

Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar, left, and progressive candidate Jessica Cisneros.
Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images; Brandon Bell/Getty Images
Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar, left, and progressive candidate Jessica Cisneros.

Updated June 21, 2022 at 6:15 PM ET

A closely watched Democratic primary in South Texas has finally been decided.

Henry Cuellar, a longtime congressman, has narrowly defeated progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros, according to a race call by The Associated Press.

Cuellar and Cisneros squared off in Texas' March primary. Neither got more than 50% of the vote, so they moved on to last month's runoff. In that runoff, the two candidates were separated by hundreds of votes, setting up a recount. Nearly a month later, on Tuesday, the AP called the race for Cuellar after the recount.

The race in Texas' 28th Congressional District pitted one of the most conservative Democrats in the House against a challenger backed by progressive stalwarts, including Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Cuellar, who has held the seat since 2005, had the endorsements of top House Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn.

This wasn't the first time Cisneros, a 29-year-old immigration attorney, took on Cuellar, 66; she first did so in 2020, heavily outraising the longtime Laredo congressman before falling short.

Cisneros ran on a distinctly progressive platform, with support for Medicare for All and pro-labor legislation.

Cuellar, who holds more conservative views on abortion, immigration and gun control, painted Cisneros as a far-left candidate who wouldn't be effective in Congress. He touted his deep ties to the district and ability to get things done.

The issue of abortion rights played a large role in the campaign, with increased momentum after a leaked draft opinion of a Supreme Court decision indicated the high court may overturn Roe v. Wade. Cisneros pushed to keep abortion rights front and center in the campaign, as Cuellar is the only self-identified "pro-life" Democrat in the House.

"There's so many key issues where she's always siding with Republicans, and he could become the Joe Manchin of the House," she told NBC's Meet The Press. "We don't want Henry Cuellar to be the deciding vote on the future of our fundamental freedoms and rights in this country."

Roughly two months before the March primary, the FBI raided Cuellar's campaign office and home in a probe, reportedly stemming from an investigation into U.S. businessmen and their ties to Azerbaijan. Cuellar's attorney told Fox News he was not a target of the investigation, but the raids provided Cisneros with attack ad fodder.

On the Republican side, Cassy Garcia, a former staffer for Sen. Ted Cruz, won the May runoff. The GOP has its sights set on flipping the competitive district in the South Texas region that's been trending more Republicans' way.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Barbara Sprunt is a producer on NPR's Washington desk, where she reports and produces breaking news and feature political content. She formerly produced the NPR Politics Podcast and got her start in radio at as an intern on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered and Tell Me More with Michel Martin. She is an alumnus of the Paul Miller Reporting Fellowship at the National Press Foundation. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Pennsylvania native.
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