Greg Casar and Jessica Cisneros are two progressive Latinx names shaking things up in Texas
After the state’s primaries on Tuesday, March 1, Casar won by a large margin as Cisneros is taking a nine-term incumbent to a runoff.
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Progressives closely watched the results from the congressional races in Texas on Tuesday, March 1. Two Latinx candidates, Greg Casar and Jessica Cisneros both came out successful in their own right.
Casar, a 32-year-old Democratic socialist, landed a win in the open primary in the state’s 35th Congressional District, which stretches from San Antonio to Austin, beating his closest rival, state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, by over 40 points as of Tuesday night.
In Texas’ 28th Congressional District, Cisneros forced Rep. Henry Cuellar into a runoff election.
Activist groups like Justice Democrats, which endorsed Cisneros and Casar, have been promoting the races as potential signs that the Democratic base is eager for liberals who will fight harder for President Biden’s agenda.
Casar became the youngest person ever elected to the Austin City Council in 2014, representing a working-class section of the city. As the son of Mexican immigrants, he has been an activist since college and has worked intimately with the city’s immigrants rights movement.
Casar’s closest opponents, Rodriguez and former San Antonio city councilmember Rebecca Viagran, each received less than 16% of the vote. Rodriguez raised roughly half as much money as Casar.
“Greg Casar shows up for working people, and they showed up for him. This victory is a result of the work he put in as a public servant. We were with Greg from day one, and look forward to working with him to make America work for all of us,” said Texas Working Families Party co-director Pedro Lira in a statement.
Casar will be among the most progressive members of Congress ever to serve from the Lone Star state. During his time as a city councilmember, he became known for supporting cuts to the police department fighting against the encampment bans that led to homeless citizens living in tents in public parks and under bridges.
He also had the support of leading progressives like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Bernie Sanders, in addition to prominent locals like Austin Mayor Steve Adler and former state Sen. Wendy Davis.
Congratulations to @GregCasar on winning your primary in TX-35! Greg will be a progressive force for the people, ready to fight for the needs of the working class. I'm looking forward to working with him in Congress. pic.twitter.com/yEba8938Pg— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) March 2, 2022
“I’m incredibly honored to be the next Democratic nominee for TX-35. Together, we’re taking our fight to the halls of Congress — to fight and deliver on passing Medicare for All, protecting reproductive rights, creating good jobs and fixing our power grid,” Casar said in a statement.
Challenging the ‘King of Laredo’
Just a few years ago, Cisneros was an intern in Henry Cuellar’s congressional office. Now, the former intern will be facing off in a rematch on May 24 against the nine-term incumbent.
In 2020, Cisneros came within 2,700 votes of claiming victory over Cuellar in the Democratic primary. Her father and volunteers collected all her campaign signs after the loss, knowing there might be a sequel.
“We knew from the very beginning this was going to be a very tough election. We deserve a lot more than what we’re being offered. And I'm really glad that over half of the voters agree that it’s time for new leadership,” Cisneros said Wednesday morning, speaking to reporters in her campaign headquarters.
Progressive Democrat Jessica Cisneros' primary challenge to U.S. Representative Henry Cuellar of Texas will go to a runoff, a show of strength by the party's left that has invigorated its supporters but also raised concerns among some analysts https://t.co/4Mow27SFB8 pic.twitter.com/D6TqQ4bz7P— Reuters (@Reuters) March 2, 2022
In Texas primaries, any candidate who finishes below 50% faces the No. 2 vote-getter in a runoff. As of Wednesday evening, Cuellar had won 48.4% of the vote, Cisneros had 46.9%, and another liberal candidate, Tannya Benavides, had 4.7%.
Like Casar, Cisneros is also the child of immigrant parents from Mexico. Her parents migrated to the states before she was born, after their older daughter needed serious medical care.
After high school, Cisneros moved to Austin to attend the University of Texas and went on to law school there, with a focus on immigration law.
During her campaign, she often cited her work in law helping asylum seekers stuck at the border under Trump’s Remain in Mexico policy. This was to contrast herself to Cuellar, who has been an outspoken critic of Biden’s stance on the issue.
But what likely helped Cisneros the most was that voters were simply focused on a change in leadership, especially as Cuellar faces an FBI investigation.
On Tuesday night, Cisneros faced her supporters gathered outside a strip mall in Laredo. Her lead had diminished by the time she took the stage just after 11 p.m., but the energy was still very high. It was still unclear at the hour whether she had earned enough votes to force a runoff.
"No matter what happens, whether again, the victory is coming today, later tonight, or tomorrow or maybe even in May. We are going to win because all of you are standing behind me,” Cisneros told supporters in English and Spanish.