It was too close to call early Wednesday morning to determine whether embattled U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar will be forced into a runoff election with progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros for U.S. House District 28.
At 2:30 a.m. on Wednesday, there were still unreported votes in Webb and Bexar in the tight race which has attracted national attention.
Earlier in the night, Cisneros expressed optimism about her performance against the powerful incumbent.
“We’re still waiting for results, but I know at the end of the day, no matter what happens — whether … the victory’s coming today, later tonight or tomorrow or maybe even in May — we are going to win,” she said.
In January, the FBI raided Cuellar’s home and campaign office, but released almost no details about why the bureau targeted the representative. Should it become clear he is not the subject of a criminal investigation, Cuellar could pick up momentum. But on the other hand, more FBI action around Cuellar could make his case to voters all the more difficult.
ABC News reported the raid was part of a federal grand jury probe and that subpoenas reportedly sought records from organizations with ties to Azerbaijan. Cuellar has taken particular interest in the oil-rich former Soviet republic. Cuellar has taken trips there and even co-chairs the Congressional Azerbaijan Caucus. Subpoenaes also sought records from three Texas-based companies with ties to Cuellar’s wife, Imelda, according to ABC News.
Prior to the FBI developments, this primary was an intraparty battle that has defined American politics over the last decade. Through Cisneros, national progressives have targeted Cuellar for two cycles. After a narrow, 4-percentage point primary win in 2020, he assembled a much stronger campaign this cycle, only to face national scrutiny after the raids.
Cisneros challenged Cuellar on several fronts, including on his abortion and health care stances. She charged that the nine-term incumbent was too conservative for the district, and she benefited from the support of a national donor network. She also benefited from the endorsements of U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and from the influential group that works to elect Democratic women who support abortion rights, EMILY’s List.
The eventual Democratic nominee will still face a ferocious fight against Republicans in November. After making inroads in South Texas in 2020, Republicans say they’re inclined to spend against the Democratic nominee.
The Republican field was equally uncertain. Cassy Garcia, a former staffer to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, led her field Tuesday night, but fell far short of avoiding a runoff. It was unclear early Wednesday who she would face in May.
First elected to public office as a state representative in 1986, Cuellar and his relatives are fixtures within the Laredo community. His brother, Martin Cuellar, is the Webb County sheriff. Their sister, Rosie Cuellar, lost her 2020 reelection bid as a county official in a Democratic primary.
A runoff would likely stoke debate about the propriety of the FBI raids so close to an election. Typically, the U.S. Justice Department avoids such public actions involving sitting officials during election seasons. In Laredo and Washington, many Democrats have raised questions about the FBI’s conduct, particularly because there was no indication as to what spurred the raids.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune, a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy.