RIO GRANDE CITY, Texas (Border Report) — U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar wants to win a 10th term in Congress but he faces a heavily backed GOP political newcomer who says it’s time for new blood in Washington.
The Republican National Committee has earmarked Cuellar’s 28th Congressional District as a seat they hope to turn red, so the day before Election Day, the South Texas Democrat wasn’t taking anything for granted.
On Monday morning, Cuellar hosted former President Bill Clinton in Laredo for a get-out-the-vote rally a day ahead of Tuesday’s elections.
Cuellar, who in the early 1990s served as a campaign manager for Clinton, told Border Report that he was instrumental in getting the 42nd president to the South Texas border.
Cuellar also said he persuaded Clinton to rally for Democratic candidate Michell Vallejo, who is running for the open seat in Texas’ 15th Congressional District, on Monday in Edinburg in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley.
In addition to the 28th District, the RNC has spent millions of dollars on advertising and campaigning for two other South Texas congressional border races — the 15th and 34th districts.
A 538 poll released Monday gave all three Democrats in those seats odd favorites to win, with Cuellar having the largest expected majority.
On Friday, Cuellar told Border Report he believes he will win his district but says this has been the nastiest campaign he’s ever experienced.
“It’s the worst campaign I’ve ever seen, that I’ve been around. It’s all negative attacks. It’s just incredible,” Cuellar said between campaign stops in rural Starr County. “But they’re wasting their money. We are going to win this race.”
Several Republican advertisements are focusing on an FBI raid of Cuellar’s Laredo home in January. No charges have been filed against Cuellar, who has publicly said he is fully cooperating with federal authorities.
His GOP opponent, Cassy Garcia, says it’s time for a new voice in Congress.
“District 28 deserves a new voice in Washington, D.C. It’s been Democratically-controlled for 110 years. We’ve never had a Republican ever win this seat, and we have a real opportunity to flip this seat,” Garcia told Border Report during a GOP woman candidates tour of the border wall on Aug. 30 near Hidalgo, Texas.
Garcia has never held public office. She is the wife of a Border Patrol agent. She is from Edinburg, and used to work for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in McAllen, which is not part of District 28. And although this is her first campaign for Congress, she says she has momentum.
“We’ve been block-walking and talking to voters every single day. We’re talking tabletop issues. We’re talking about the economy. We’re talking about high energy gas prices we’re talking about securing our southern border,” Garcia said.
Several analysts have told Border Report that of the three South Texas border races, Democrats have the best chance to hold the 28th District. That’s because Cuellar is a known political entity, and a moderate who has historically worked well with Republicans including voting against abortion rights.
“Congressman Cuellar actually sort of attempts, and intentionally or maybe unintentionally, he kind of straddles the line between a moderate and conservative Democrat,” Natasha Altema McNeely, an associate political science professor for the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, told Border Report.
Cuellar is vice chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee, and if Democrats maintain control of the House on Tuesday, he told Border Report that he is in line to become chairman of the subcommittee in 2023. If Republicans take control of the House, he said he would become the ranking Democrat on the committee. (The 538 poll released Monday predicts Republicans will take over the House.)
Cuellar is the only Democrat from Texas on the House Appropriations Committee. He said over the years he has helped to send millions of dollars in federal funds to the South Texas border to help augment law enforcement, enhance border technology, hire more immigration judges, and improve schools, infrastructure and the local economy.
“I have money there right now in this current appropriations to add more Border Patrol, more support staff for the men and women in blue, support staff, technology, pay raises, mental health, clothing allowance there’s a lot of things I’ve been able to add in this appropriations bill and next year we’re going to do a lot more,” Cuellar said Friday in Rio Grande City.
The Republican-led Legislature redrew District 28 last year and removed Hidalgo County from it. The border cities of Mission, Palmview and La Joya were strongholds for Cuellar, but they no longer are part of the district. He told Border Report there are three GOP-majority counties he doesn’t expect to carry: Guadalupe, McMullen and Atascosa, just south of San Antonio.
But he vowed to carry the border.
In the primary, Garcia performed strongly in San Antonio. She touts her endorsement by the National Border Patrol Council, saying that will help her win the border.
“My incumbent obviously has been there for 17 years. The National Border Patrol has always endorsed Henry Cuellar but has endorsed me in this race because they know that I will always have their back and that I will make sure to fight for them,” Garcia said.
“We’re overrun. Crime is out of control. It’s Washington’s fault and something has to change. That’s why the National Border Patrol Council is switching its endorsement. This time we back Cassy Garcia for Congress,” National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd said in an advertisement.
“We are seeing the worst crisis ever recorded. Under the previous administration we had the most secure border,” Garcia said. “Border Patrol agents do not have the resources they need to do their job every single day and that’s why I’m running for Congress.”
She said she backs the “Remain in Mexico” program implemented by President Donald Trump, and the construction of the border wall, which was curtailed when President Joe Biden took office.
But Cuellar says the latest FBI crime statistics show that border communities actually are safer and free from major crimes than other U.S. cities in the interior. And he says most drugs cross at ports of entry, which means more support is needed for U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers.
“There is a problem dealing with immigration issue but at the same time, the border is a lot safer than the national crime rate,” Cuellar said. “We’re safer here.”
During an Oct. 6 GOP women’s prayer breakfast in McAllen, Garcia told the crowd a red wave is coming.
“We are seeing the worst in this country but I tell people a revival is coming, hope is coming, change is coming to South Texas. But we need you. We need everybody to get out. It’s so important. Our values are on that ballot come Nov. 8,” she said.
Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. CST on Tuesday for Election Day.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com