HARLINGEN, Texas (Border Report) — Longtime Democratic Texas incumbent U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar is heading back to Congress for a 10th term after voters on the South Texas border on Tuesday soundly endorsed him for re-election despite a push by the GOP to turn the district red.
Cuellar beat his Republican opponent, Cassy Garcia, with 56.4% of the vote to 43.6%, according to the Associated Press, which called the race shortly after 11 p.m. CST.
“We did extremely well,” Cuellar told Border Report in a phone call late Thursday. “I can tell you that none of my counties in South Texas went red. This narrative that they had was false.”
District 28 was one of three South Texas border districts in which the National Republican Congressional Committee sunk millions of dollars for TV and radio advertising and block-walking in the hopes of getting Republican voters to the polls.
But in the end, it wasn’t enough after Democrats pulled out all the stops in last-minute campaigning, which included a visit Monday to Laredo by former President Bill Clinton, who called Cuellar his “good friend” during a get-out-the-vote rally.
Garcia is a political newcomer who has never held office and is the wife of a U.S. Border Patrol agent. She received the endorsement from the National Border Patrol Council, taking it away from Cuellar who has for years been their favorite. And she touted that endorsement leading up to the campaign, believing the law enforcement vote would help to carry a win for her.
Cuellar said aggressive “attack ads” backed by the Republican National Campaign Committee is what he believes helped to drive Democrats to the polls.
“They can attack me, but when they attack the family, it’s wrong. And I think the community saw that it was wrong, that the ads in my opinion were racist,” Cuellar said.
Cuellar is vice chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee and he told Border Report that if Democrats maintain control of the House he should be in line to chair the subcommittee in 2023. If not, he’ll become the ranking Democratic member.
He often can be seen on C-SPAN wielding the gavel as he Speaker Pro Tem for Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
With Tuesday’s win, he told Border Report he becomes 60th in seniority in the 435-member chamber.
“Seniority brings results and as the only Democrat from the state of Texas on Appropriations – and next year chairman of the subcommittee on the Appropriations for Homeland – I certainly want to work hard for our communities,” Cuellar told Border Report just days before Tuesday’s election.
He holds a doctorate and law degree from the University of Texas and is one of the “most degreed” members of Congress, according to his website.
His hometown is Laredo, Texas, which has always been his political stronghold, and is where his brother, Martin Cuellar, is the sheriff of Webb County.
Cuellar is a moderate Democratic who is the only Democrat in the House last year to vote against codifying abortion rights. He is a staunch Catholic and has told Border Report he stands behind his beliefs and refuses to waiver, regardless of his party’s position.
That appears to have played well with the majority Catholic and Hispanic base in the South Texas borderlands.
Cuellar is an advocate for supporting U.S. Border Patrol agents and U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers with more funding, staff and resources to help them secure the borderlands. He has helped to get aerostats and other virtual devices launched on the border, and has openly opposed the billions of dollars spent during the Trump administration on new border wall construction.
Since 2015, he has increased by hundreds the number of immigration judges that are to be put into office, although the actual hiring and securing of office space for those positions has been woefully delayed.
This past year, he got funding for eight new immigration courts to open in Laredo, and he told Border Report he has been working with his neighboring Republican colleague, Tony Gonzales, to add immigration courts in the Del Rio area.
The Del Rio Sector in Fiscal Year 2022 surpassed the Rio Grande Valley as the No. 1 for migrant encounters on the entire Southwest border. In Fiscal Year 2022, which ended in September, there were over 2.2 million encounters with migrants on the Southwest border, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.