Justice Democrats, the progressive insurgent group that recruited and helped elect Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), has found its first Democratic primary challenger to support during the 2020 cycle.
The group is supporting immigration and human-rights attorney Jessica Cisneros in her attempt to unseat Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) in Texas’ 28th Congressional District. Cisneros formally launched her campaign on Thursday with a platform of ending family separation, Medicare for All, the Green New Deal and a rejection of all corporate PAC and lobbyist contributions.
“Our congressman claims to be a Democrat, but he’s voted with Trump nearly 70 percent of the time,” Cisneros said in her bilingual launch video. “He’s Trump’s favorite Democrat. Henry Cuellar voted to defund sanctuary cities and reproductive health services for women’s health. He’s received an A rating from the NRA. And he’s accepted thousands of dollars from private prisons and the Koch brothers.”
Cuellar, who represents a district where a mere 38.5 percent of the electorate voted for President Donald Trump, has long been considered a target by Justice Democrats, which has pushed more progressive candidates to challenge moderate or establishment-minded Democratic incumbents in safely blue districts.
In January, the group announced it was launching a fund for a prospective opponent against the congressman, who has represented the southern Texas district since 2005. Cuellar responded by saying the group didn’t understand his district. “LBJ, when he was also attacked by some liberal folks, he said, ‘What’s the difference between a liberal and a cannibal?’ And the difference was, ‘Cannibals don’t eat their own,’” Cuellar told reporters.
The template that Justice Democrats hope to follow is the one set by Ocasio-Cortez when she unseated longtime New York congressman Joe Crowley during the Democratic primary in 2018. Ocasio-Cortez herself said during an organizing call in November of last year that she supported efforts to get more primary challengers in the field, though she did not weigh in on Cuellar’s race specifically.
While by sheer numbers, Justice Democrats’ overall success rate was not enormous in 2018, with just seven backed Democrats including incumbents winning in the cycle, the recipients of its endorsements have been some of the more impactful voices in the Democratic Party. And having the group’s infrastructure, both financial and staff-wise, can help put a spotlight on a primary challenger and give his or her campaign a boost.
While Justice Democrats did not immediately inform The Daily Beast as to how much their fund against Cuellar had raised, the group reported raising over $2.5 million during the 2017-18 cycle.
“Jessica has a deep commitment to the working families of South Texas and has what it takes to lead her district,” Alexandra Rojas, executive director of Justice Democrats said. “Our grassroots progressive movement has an opportunity to build a more accountable Democratic Party by unseating one of the worst amid our ranks and ushering in a new generation of leaders.”