Roe Referendum? Pro-Life Democrat Appears Poised To Defeat ‘Squad’-Backed Candidate in Texas Runoff

Rep. Henry Cuellar (Getty Images)
May 25, 2022

The last pro-life Democrat in the House of Representatives appears poised to win his primary election—a sign that a potential overturn of Roe v. Wade may have a limited impact on the midterms in November.

Rep. Henry Cuellar (Texas) leads Jessica Cisneros—a 28-year-old progressive immigration lawyer—by a 177-vote margin with all precincts reporting. Cuellar faced a barrage of opposition spending from pro-abortion groups, which mobilized in response to news that the Supreme Court will overturn the landmark abortion case. The spending doesn't appear to have moved the needle against Cuellar—his voter turnout was virtually identical to his performance in March's initial primary election which forced Tuesday's runoff.

Cuellar was the only Democrat to vote against the Women's Health Protection Act when it passed the House in September—a bill that would codify Roe and repeal all abortion restrictions nationwide. Following the Politico report, Cuellar affirmed his opposition to abortion in all cases except rape, incest, and a threat to the life of the mother. Cisneros called on the Democratic Party to unite against Cuellar due to his pro-life views, but he maintained endorsements from party leaders ahead of the runoff election.

The super PAC arm of EMILY's List, a left-wing organization that backs pro-abortion candidates, poured more than $500,000 into ads against Cuellar in the final weeks of the runoff. Planned Parenthood Action Fund organized in the district to support Cisneros and was joined by NARAL, which launched a digital advertisement of its own.

The primary result could dampen media speculation that an overturn of Roe could help Democrats keep control of Congress in November's midterm elections. Generic ballot polls have remained unchanged since the Politico bombshell—with Republicans averaging a 2 to 3 percent advantage. Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America, said Cuellar's views on abortion better represent his district and give Democrats the best chance to hold the seat in November.

"Jessica Cisneros would have easily lost the seat to the Republicans because of her pro-abortion extremism and far left-leaning views on other issues," Day told the Washington Free Beacon.

Cuellar's win comes just months after the congressman's home and campaign office were raided by the FBI in January as a part of an investigation reportedly linked to the former Soviet state Azerbaijan and several U.S. businessmen. Cuellar's attorney said the congressman is not the target of the investigation.

Cuellar defeated Cisneros by narrow margins in their first matchup in 2020 and the primary election in March. Cisneros received extensive media coverage after she received endorsements from leading progressives such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.). Cuellar, who was first elected in 2004, brands himself as a moderate due to his conservative-leaning stances on abortion, guns, and border security. Ocasio-Cortez said her party's support for Cuellar was a "failure of leadership."

"If Cuellar wins, leadership’s decision to go to the mat for a pro-NRA incumbent will be the reason why," Ocasio-Cortez tweeted Tuesday. "If Cisneros pulls it out, they will have mobilized against a badly needed grassroots for Nov & fought against a historic victory. And for what?"

The Women’s Health Protection Act fell short of the 60 votes needed to pass in the Senate in May—facing opposition from all Republicans and a lone pro-life Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.). Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) has historically campaigned as pro-life but voted in favor of the bill.