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Texas Rep. Cuellar beats back progressive challenger

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Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) defeated attorney Jessica Cisneros in a nationally watched race that pitted one of the House’s most centrist Democrats against a Squad-aligned progressive, according to AP.

Why it matters: Cuellar’s win is a blow to progressives, who saw the South Texas district and its embattled congressman as a prime opportunity to elevate one of their own at the expense of a moderate.

It also blunts momentum they had coming off wins in Texas, Oregon and Pennsylvania.Republicans see the district as a top pickup opportunity, but privately believed Cisneros’ more left-leaning views made her the ideal opponent to run against.Cuellar narrowly edged out Cisneros in a free-for-all primary in April, but failed to crack the 50% threshold needed to avoid a runoff.

The backdrop: The contest was a stark battle between progressives and the Democratic establishment.

Cisneros, a 29-year-old immigration lawyer who interned for Cuellar in college, ran on policies like Medicare-for-all and the Green New Deal with endorsements from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and the Justice Democrats.Cuellar, who has held the South Texas seat since 2005, touted more conservative positions on issues like energy and border security.Cuellar was backed by the top three Democrats in the House: Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn.

Go deeper: Cuellar appeared vulnerable this cycle after beating Cisneros by just 4 points in 2020. An FBI raid and a leaked Supreme Court draft decision overturning Roe v. Wade compounded matters for him.

His Laredo home was searched by the FBI in January, reportedly in connection with a probe into American organizations’ ties to Azerbaijan. Cuellar’s lawyer claimed in April that he is not a target of the investigation, but the FBI declined to confirm that assertion.Cuellar’s status as one of the last anti-abortion rights Democrats in Congress also drew scrutiny after the leaked decision, with Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal citing it in her eleventh-hour endorsement of Cisneros.

The big picture: Cuellar’s victory comes bolsters moderate and establishment Democrats, who have struggled to suppress progressive gains.

Rep. Kurt Schrader is on track to lose to a liberal primary challenger in Oregon, while Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and state Rep. Summer Lee won Senate and House primaries respectively.Also in Texas, Justice Democrats-backed Greg Casar handily won his primary back in March.But progressives have struggled elsewhere, particularly in House races in Ohio, Kentucky and North Carolina.

What’s next: The district is expected to be highly competitive in the fall, having voted for President Biden by just 7 points in 2020.

The region shifted rapidly towards Republicans in the 2020 due to former President Trump’s surprising strength with Hispanic voters there.Cassy Garcia, a former aide to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), easily won her runoff to be the Republican nominee.