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Rep. Henry Cuellar wins contentious south Texas Democratic primary runoff

Centrist Rep. Henry Cuellar has won the Democratic nomination for Texas' 28th District, after a recount requested by challenger Jessica Cisneros determined Cuellar prevailed by 289 votes.

His original lead had been tabulated at 281 votes, but during the recount he picked up more votes in Jim Hogg and Starr County, the more rural and Cuellar-friendly parts of the sprawling southern Texas district.

The win is Cuellar's narrowest victory over Cisneros, who unsuccessfully challenged Cuellar for his seat in the 2020 primary as well.

Cuellar's victory came amid several controversies, including an FBI investigation that led to raids of Cuellar's Laredo, Texas, home and campaign office. Cuellar's attorney has said the congressman is not the target of the FBI investigations. The FBI has neither confirmed or denied Cuellar's involvement to CBS News. 

Cuellar's stance on abortion also became a clear point of contrast between him and Cisneros after a draft opinion from U.S. Supreme Court that would overturn Roe v. Wade was leaked. 

In a statement Tuesday, Cuellar said he was always confident his election night lead would hold and that he will work to reach out to the more progressive voters in his district, which recently was redrawn to include more of San Antonio.

"While we may differ on certain positions, we share a common ground on many issues to improve our communities and strengthen families. It is now time to come together and win the General Election in November," he said.

"I am an American, Texan then a Democrat — in that order — and I will continue to fight for Texas values and not let coastal elites bring their failed agenda to our communities," he added. 

Cisneros conceded shortly after the official recount results were released. In a statement, she said she was "up against a corrupt political machine," and pointed to spending by outside groups such as the United Democracy Project, a group affiliated with the pro-Israel American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which spent at least $1.8 million in independent expenditures in the race.

"With this close of a margin, it's clear that without their aggressive interference in the lives of South Texas families, we would have won," Cisneros said in her statement. "We're going to keep fighting to create a more progressive and accountable Democratic Party this year and work to turn Texas blue in November."

Progressive groups backing Cisneros such as Justice Democrats also criticized the outside spending, as well as the House Democratic leadership's support for Cuellar, who received endorsements from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Jim Clyburn, both of whom appeared at a campaign event with Cuellar in the closing weeks of the contest.

"The party establishment would rather protect one of their own than deliver results for Democratic voters and South Texas families," said Justice Democrats Executive Director Alexandra Rojas. "They would rather discourage more young, working-class women of color like Jessica from running for office. It's disgraceful and I am deeply worried about November."

Cuellar will now face Republican nominee Cassy Garcia in the November general election, as Republicans turn their eye towards unseating the longtime border district incumbent. Republicans are optimistic about their chances, pointing to Republican Mayra Flores' special election win in Texas' nearby 34th District earlier in June. 

The House GOP-backed Congressional Leadership Fund has reserved at least $3.5 million in advertising for the district in the fall. The National Republican Congressional Committee has also reserved a similar amount in T.V. ads that would air in the 28th District, as well as the neighboring 15th District. 

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