Trump-backed AG Paxton squares off against Bush scion in marquee Texas runoff battle

Rep. Henry Cuellar, the lone pro-life Democrat in the House, faces a challenge from progressive immigration attorney Jessica Cisneros in his bid for reelection in a border district.

Updated: May 24, 2022 - 7:54am

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Texans go the polls Tuesday in two tight runoff elections that are expected to serve as bellwethers for the political mood of state voters heading toward Election Day in November.

Texas Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton is facing off against the last man standing in the Bush dynasty, George P. Bush, the state's land commissioner. 

Paxton, who has aggressively challenged the Biden administration in court on a range of issues, in particular border security, is seeking a third term. He has been among President Trump's most loyal supporters, which landed him a critical endorsement from the former president. Dogged by allegations of corruption, however, he is no shoo-in.

In 2015, Paxton was indicted on two counts of securities fraud and one count of failing to register with state securities regulators. He is currently facing an FBI investigation into bribery and corruption allegations leveled by former staffers. Paxton has consistently maintained his innocence and says the charges are politically motivated.

Bush has campaigned, in part, on his relatively clean record. He says he's offering Texans a baggage-free option, compared to the state's current top cop. Though the Bush name brings its own sort of baggage, Bush thinks it's been helpful.

"It helps open the door on conversation on the trail," he recently told Fox News. "My family's always offered a public service. It's not about coveted titles or wearing fancy lapel pins, it's about doing the right thing for Texas."

In the March 1 primary, Paxton finished 20 points ahead of Bush but failed to reach the 50% threshold that would have kept him out of runoff territory.

Recent surveys indicate Bush has been closing the gap, though Paxton told Fox he is still "way ahead" of his challenger hours before primary Election Day.

If Bush fails to secure the win Tuesday, 2023 will be the first year since 1981 that there are no Bush family members serving in elected office.

Down in Texas' 28th Congressional District, incumbent Democrat Rep. Henry Cuellar will attempt Tuesday to edge out progressive Jessica Cisneros, an immigration attorney who is running against him for the second time.

Cuellar has the backing of House Democratic leadership, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Whip Rep. Jim Clyburn, despite being the sole member of his conference to maintain pro-life beliefs.

The 66-year-old has held his seat since 2005 and argues that his moderate liberal bent is more closely aligned with the conservative values of the primarily Latino voters in his district, which stretches from the San Antonio area to the Mexican border.

During the primary, Cuellar — who beat Cisneros by four points in 2020 — finished less than two points up, with 48.5% of the vote compared to her 46.8%.

Cuellar's position was weakened by an FBI raid on his home shortly before the primary that reportedly related to an ongoing federal probe involving the Republic of Azerbaijan. Exactly what is happening remains unclear, but Cuellar says the investigation will yield no findings of wrongdoing on his part.

Cisneros, who turns 29 on Tuesday, has outraised Cuellar by more than $1 million. She has received endorsements from a dream team of progressives, including Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, as well as Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, New York Reps. Jamaal Bowman and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Rep. Katie Porter of California.

The Cook Political Report's Political Voting Index shows the district as Democrat 7-plus. However, in 2016, its voters chose Trump. Republicans, therefore, see an opportunity to flip the seat in November, especially as historically Democratic Hispanic voters appear to be shifting toward the middle. 

Republicans in the district will also choose their candidate Tuesday. They are deciding between Sandra Whitten, who was the party nominee in 2020, and Cassy Garcia, a former aide to Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, who has been endorsed by members of the GOP House leadership.