Fifteen-year incumbent U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Laredo) turned away progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros in the primary for the 28th Congressional District seat, a Democratic stronghold in Texas.

Early Wednesday morning, Cuellar held on to pull 51.8 percent of the vote to Cisneros’ 48.2 percent with all counties reporting.

“These results show that even in heavily democratic districts, a majority of voters still want us to be a big tent party, where moderates are welcome,” Cuellar stated Wednesday. “As Democrats, we must continue protecting the majority in the House, taking back the Senate, as well as taking back the White House. I am proud to have overcome this challenge, and to my opponent, I wish you the best.”

Meanwhile, in the battleground 23rd District, Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones pulled far ahead of her four Democrat opponents and declared victory just before midnight.

“I’ve dedicated my life to public service, and I’m running for Congress to expand the opportunities that allowed me to grow up healthy, get a quality education, and serve our country,” Jones stated in a news release. “Folks in South and West Texas are ready to send a leader to Washington who will fight for quality, lower-cost health care, responsible and compassionate immigration reform, and an economy that works for everyone.”

Republicans Tony Gonzales and Raul Reyes emerged out of a field of nine candidates to advanced to a May runoff.

Vote totals from counties across Texas trickled in after 7 p.m. during Super Tuesday, primary election day for 15 states and territories.

While most eyes are on the presidential race, where five Democratic candidates were vying for more than one-third of the delegates on Super Tuesday, the battle between Cisneros and Cuellar in Congressional District 28 captured the attention of national donors and politicos as Cisneros, a progressive 26-year-old immigration attorney, attempted to unseat a moderate Democrat.

The district includes some of San Antonio’s far East Side and stretches over 58,000 square miles south to include 294 miles of U.S.-Mexico border. Cuellar’s strong lead at the beginning of the night dwindled to 53 percent, a less than 4,000-vote margin, at 1 a.m.

Around midnight, Cisneros told supporters at a rally in Laredo that “It’s still up in the air, it’s still too close to call. … Even though we still don’t have results yet, I think one thing is clear: that our movement was victorious tonight.”

“This fight has always been about an opportunity to prove how one of us – a brown girl from our community … could take on an entire machine and make them more scared than they’ve ever been.”

Both campaigns considered Webb County to be a bellwether for the district. Early vote totals in Webb County showed Cuellar in a commanding lead with 57 percent of the vote; that’s 10,176 votes for Cuellar and 7,666 votes for Cisneros (42 percent).

Cuellar has argued that Cisneros’ progressive values don’t speak for many constituents in the district, who tend to be more socially conservative.

Jones’ second shot

This is Jones’ second run for the seat after her narrow loss in 2018 when she challenged now-retiring Republican U.S. Rep. Will Hurd. With almost of the 29 counties reporting, Jones had grabbed 66.8 percent of the vote. Rosalinda “Rosey” Ramos Abuabara was a distant second with less than 11 percent.

Jones, an Iraq War veteran, would become the first openly gay woman of color from Texas elected to Congress if she wins the general election in November. She lost to Hurd in 2018 by fewer than 1,000 votes.

Congressional Democratic candidate Gina Ortiz Jones stops by Backyard on Broadway as she secures a strong lead on election night. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

The 23rd District spans from West San Antonio and South Texas cities such as Carrizo Springs west to the outskirts of El Paso and includes about 800 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Hurd endorsed Gonzales, a U.S. Navy veteran, last year. His lead over Raul Reyes, a U.S. Air Force veteran who owns a home construction business in Del Rio, vacillated as the night went on. Gonzales finished with 28.1 percent of the vote compared to Reyes’ 23.3 percent.

“It’s a little frustrating – the pace that the numbers are coming in – but I’m from San Antonio,” Gonzales said. “Bexar County has always been our strength, and we’re excited to see those numbers come [in], and I think once they do it’ll change the scope of the race a little bit. … I don’t like surprises so we always planned for three races.”

Reyes received 2,057 early votes (18 percent) in Bexar County early votes compared to Gonzales’ 3,664 (33 percent).

Tong Gonzales, a Republican candidate for Congressional District 23 carries his son Daniel, 2, from his campaign headquarters after a long day of stumping across 11 counties. Credit: Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Republican candidate Alma Arredondo-Lynch, a dentist from Uvalde, was criticized this week by San Antonio City Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8), Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales, and various faith leaders for her recent derogatory remarks made toward Muslims. She received 13.2 percent.

Congressional District 20

The historically Democratic District 20 – which covers much of San Antonio’s West and Northwest sides – is expected to keep incumbent U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro despite two other challengers in his primary and five Republicans vying for a spot on the ballot.

Castro, who is running for his fifth term in Congress, maintained more than 90 percent of the vote throughout the night. Democratic challengers Justin Lecea, activist and community organizer, and Rob Hostetler received less than eight percent combined.

Mauro Garza, the owner of popular gay nightclub Pegasus in San Antonio, received more than 4,600 votes in the Republican primary for the seat. That puts him at nearly 35 percent – not enough to escape a runoff election. At 1 a.m., Gary Allen was a far second with nearly 26 percent and Dominick Dina a close third with 23 percent.

Congressional District 21

Incumbent U.S. Rep. Chip Roy ran unopposed on the Republican primary ballot. Meanwhile, Democratic candidate Wendy Davis, a former gubernatorial candidate, pulled far ahead (more than 85 percent) of Jennie Lou Leeder in early voting and maintained that lead throughout the night, finishing with 86.1 percent.

“To every voter who trusted me with your vote, to every volunteer who knocked on doors, to every Texan who donated anything they could – Thank you,” Davis tweeted around 11 p.m. “I’m honored to be your nominee for U.S. Congress in #TX21 Now on to November!”

The district – which includes a sliver of Austin, San Antonio’s North Side, and much of the Hill Country – has had a Republican representative since 1979, but Roy only narrowly won against Democrat Joseph Kopser in 2019.

Davis, a former state senator who lost a bid to unseat Gov. Greg Abbott in 2014, hopes to turn the seat blue.

Congressional District 35

Democrat Lloyd Doggett, who has represented District 35 for 13 terms, led by more than 40 percentage-points over challenger Rafael Alcoser III throughout the night.

Republican candidates “Guillermo” William Hayward, a military contractor, and Nick Moutos, a prosecutor with the Texas attorney general’s office, battled for second place throughout the night as Jenny Garcia Sharon, a community volunteer, received nearly 37 percent of the vote as of 1 a.m. Hayward received nearly 34 percent of the vote and Moutos received nearly 30 percent.

However, any Republican nominee will face an uphill battle in the historically Democratic district.

Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

Senior reporter Iris Dimmick covers City Hall, politics, development, and more. Contact her at iris@rivardreport.com