LAREDO, Texas (Border Report) — U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar surged slightly ahead of his progressive Democratic challenger Jessica Cisneros early Wednesday. But with all of the votes in, the race was too close to call, and it was uncertain whether Cuellar had received a majority in the heated Texas 28th Congressional District that encompasses a wide section of the South Texas border.
The Texas Secretary of State’s Office reported that Cuellar had received 49.98% to Cisneros’ 45.38%. This came after Cuellar had trailed most of Tuesday evening to Cisneros.
The New York Times at 2:30 a.m. CST reported that Cuellar was in a runoff with Cisneros.
Cuellar had at one point surpassed 50% in the early morning hours when his numbers went up substantially after all votes were reported in Starr and Zapata counties, as well as Webb County, which includes his hometown of Laredo. Cuellar won all three of those counties.
But Cisneros won Bexar County, which includes San Antonio, which political watchers had predicted would swing her way. She also won Guadalupe and Atascosa counties, according to the Secretary of State’s website.
And then Cuellar dipped just barely below the majority of 50% needed to avoid a runoff election under Texas law.
Around 11 p.m. on Tuesday, Cisneros told a crowd of supporters that her race for the Democratic nomination to unseat longtime Congressman Cuellar was too close to call but she still believed they would win the South Texas border seat.
Cisneros, 28, an immigration lawyer who once worked for Cuellar, had maintained a slight lead over Cuellar and at once point even hit 50% of the vote.
But the numbers went up and down and it wasn’t until those South Texas border counties reported that Cuellar got close to the 50% mark, and Cisneros fell into the mid-40s. Environmentalist Tannya Benavides had 4.6%, according to early returns.
“We’ll probably not know the results tonight but I wanted to come out and thank you all for standing with me on this campaign and South Texas campaign for change,” Cisneros told about 200 supporters gathered in an outdoor palapa-like venue near a park in Laredo.
“We are showing that our dreams can compete neck and neck and we are going to show that we’re going to come out on top because we, as people, are more powerful than whatever kind of money they put their faith in,” Cisneros told the cheering crowd.
The New York Times and other media outlets are calling this race the most competitive in the state’s midterm primary.
In January, the FBI raided the Laredo home and offices of Cuellar, who is seeking a tenth term. He has not been charged with any crime and has said he is fully cooperating in any investigation.
At Cisneros’ watch party in Laredo, lively and upbeat Tejano music played and chips and salsa were served as supporters waited for Cisneros. There were several young adult supporters — a growing sector that political watchers say could decide the vote in this district.
“It’s time for a change,” supporter Viridiana Castro, 23, told Border Report as she waited for Cisneros. “He’s been in office too long.”
Cuellar was not holding a watch party, his campaign told Border Report.
“The FBI investigation weakened Henry Cuellar in terms of money,” said Danny Diaz, director of LUPE Votes, and former campaign manager for Cisneros when she ran in 2020 and tried to unseat Cuellar.
“He started having to spend money from his own war chest which is great for Jessica,” Diaz told Border Report. “He’s been able to leave that war chest for several years. But Jessica’s tenacity to keep running is showing.
“He’s hurt right now, I think, financially,” Diaz said.
Cisneros has raised $1.5 million during the campaign and spent $1.12 million, according to campaign reports.
Cuellar has raised nearly $2 million and spent over $2 million — meaning he had to dip into what Diaz calls his “war chest” that he has amassed over several elections and rarely had to use.
Campaign reports show Cisneros has about $409,000 in reserves, while Cuellar has $1.27 million.
Cisneros is holding a press conference in the morning and Border Report plans to be there.
Check back for further updates.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com