Justice Democrats, the insurgent left organization that backed Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA)—both of whom unseated long-term incumbents in deep-blue districts—has announced its first target for primarying in 2020.
The group will train its focus on Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX), who represents a safe Democratic district in southern Texas. The group has also launched a fund in order to finance a prospective primary challenger against Cuellar, whom they described in a tweet as a “fake Democrat.”
“In the last election cycle, Justice Democrats revealed enormous energy in the Democratic Party primary electorate for change when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley upset long-time incumbent Democrats who had grown out-of-touch with their deep blue districts. We’re now leading a grassroots candidate recruitment effort to find a real Democrat to run against Cuellar,” said Alexandra Rojas, executive director of Justice Democrats.
The group cited the fact that Cuellar voted with Trump 69 percent of the time and voted with Republicans to support a ban on the use of federal funds for abortion-related services, among other things. Additionally, Cuellar attended a fundraiser last year for his Republican colleague Rep. John Carter, angering his Democratic opponent MJ Hegar who came very close to defeating him.
Colin Srother, a spokesperson for the Cuellar's campaign told The Daily Beast that they do not plan to do anything differently in the face of a prospective challenge.
“Our response is to get up and go to work today and try to do a better job than we did yesterday,” he said. “We can’t control who files or anything else. All we can control is the level of effort that we put in every day.”
Asked about the Congressman being labeled a “fake Democrat,” Srother said: “He is fond of saying, ‘I was born a Democrat and I'll die a Democrat.’”
Though opponents to his incumbency are unmoved.
“Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley’s stunning upsets revealed that there’s enormous appetite among Democrats for primary challengers to take on incumbents who are out-of-touch with their districts,” Sean McElwee, executive director of the progressive firm Data for Progress said. “Progressives have an opportunity to strategically primary the most vile Democrats in their ranks, and Henry Cuellar should top the list.” He previously told The Daily Beast that the firm would poll match-ups in this district and others.
Justice Democrats has already made clear of their intentions to primary Democrats in 2020, an idea that Ocasio-Cortez herself backed. However, at this time, the congresswoman is not personally involved in the process.
UPDATE, 3:07 p.m. ET: This story has been updated to reflect comment from a Cuellar spokesperson.