Update: On Wednesday morning, Henry Cuellar reportedly defeated 26-year-old progressive incumbent Jessica Cisneros in the Texas congressional race. Cisneros, who was once Cuellar's intern, lost the race with a closing poll of 52-48%. Cuellar has held the seat since 2005, and is one of the last remaining anti-abortion Democrats in the House of Representatives.
This story was originally published on March 3, 2020.
While Super Tuesday certainly has a focus on presidential campaigns and who will likely score the nomination for president in each respective party, that’s not the only thing going on. There are also candidates vying for Congressional seats. One such candidate is Jessica Cisneros, who’s on the ballot today in Texas trying to unseat her former boss, current Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar.
Cisneros was working as Cuellar’s intern in 2014, and now, at 26 years old, she’s an immigration and human rights attorney running for his seat. Specifically, the congressional candidate is leading on a progressive platform that champions immigration reform, the Green New Deal, and Medicare for All. While her campaign may seem farfetched, she's often compared to another young candidate who made history years ago when she was elected as a New York representative. In fact, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has already endorsed Cisneros and believes she will be the next young woman of color to make history.
Ahead of Super Tuesday, two powerhouse presidential candidates also showed support for the Texas hopeful: Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Along with endorsements from major organizations like Planned Parenthood and EMILY's List — who showcased Cisneros' progressive platform despite a blacklist rule from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — Jessica Cisneros is now on everyone's radar as the woman shaking up the first major election day of 2020.
So, why exactly is Cisneros challenging Henry Cuellar, her former boss? While Cuellar is a Democrat, he voted with President Donald Trump almost 70% of the time of the time during the first two years of Trump’s presidency. For that, progressive activists named him “Trump’s favorite Democrat.”
It was when she went to Washington to intern for Cuellar that she realized she didn’t like what she saw, she told Refinery29 in 2019. The way Cuellar relied on corporate money and businesses interests, his ties to private prisons and energy companies performing fracking, among other politics of his made Cisneros uneasy. She also felt that Texas deserves a pro-choice candidate. In that moment, she told herself, “‘One day I’m going to run for Congress.’”
Eventually, after working her way up in the world, Cisneros decided it was high time to stand up for her own values. After being recruited by Justice Democrats — the same progressive group that recruited Ocasio-Cortez to upset the status quo and beat out incumbent Joe Crowley in New York in 2018. Cisneros has been working hard to come out of this election victorious.
But Cisneros, from the border town of Laredo, has always had a passion for politics, which is why she interned for Cuellar at 20-years-old in the first place. She has, so far in her campaign, tried to focus both on national issues like Medicare for All and more local issues, near and dear to the hearts of those at home in Texas. The politician has taken this opportunity to try to uplift the voices of people from within border communities, and “portray South Texas in a positive light and an accurate light,” she told BuzzFeed. Her goal, mainly, is to give constituents at home another choice on the ballot for the first time in over a decade.
The most recent numbers show that Cisneros has raised almost $1 million, up against Cuellar’s $1.7 million, which is actually a huge amount of money for any primary challenging an incumbent. There’s much riding on the outcome of this election, with the potential to prove that other young progressive candidates can stake a claim in the game and be taken seriously. Or, prove naysayers right: that wins like Ocasio-Cortez’s are an exception to the rule. Cisneros does not intend for that to happen, and says she will continue pushing progressive policies in her district regardless of the election outcome.