LAREDO — U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, a boost Saturday in the homestretch of his hotly contested primary race, calling for a decisive win while visiting his campaign headquarters here.
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"We want this to be not only a victory, but a resounding victory for Henry Cuellar," Pelosi told a crowd of several dozen Cuellar campaign workers and supporters. "Every step you take, every door you knock, every call you make, will make that resounding victory possible — and it includes getting out a big Democratic vote prepared to vote again in the general election so that we turn Texas blue."
Cuellar is battling a serious primary challenge from Jessica Cisneros, an attorney from Laredo recruited by Justice Democrats, the insurgent progressive group behind the campaign of freshman U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York. Cisneros has racked up endorsements from presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, as well as Ocasio-Cortez and Julián Castro, the former White House contender, U.S. housing secretary and San Antonio mayor.
Cuellar has touted a long list of local endorsements, while Pelosi and other House leaders made clear months ago that he has their backing. The centrist Democrat has also gotten support from unusual places in a Democratic primary, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the political network created by the Koch brothers.
Pelosi was joined at the Laredo campaign office by Cuellar and U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey of New York, who chairs the powerful House Appropriations Committee on which Cuellar serves.
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"We assume that Henry will win, but we don't take anything for granted," Pelosi said. "The word 'assume' — ass of you and me. Assume nothing."
Pelosi and Lowey, along with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, were in Laredo on Saturday for a series of events including the annual Abrazo Ceremony, which Pelosi attended last year. At the ceremony — and later at Cuellar's campaign office — Pelosi touted his role in helping craft the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, saying he was "right there on the forefront, relentless and persistent."
Before the campaign office visit, Pelosi headlined a fundraiser for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee that also featured Cuellar.
In an interview earlier Saturday, Cisneros said Pelosi's trip to Laredo "wasn't really surprising," noting the speaker visited around the same time last year, when Cuellar did not yet have a primary opponent.
"We know what she sees her role as, which is protecting incumbents and expanding the majority," Cisneros said, "and we know that at end of the day, once March 3 comes around, we’re the ones that are gonna win because we’re the ones that have a true ear to the ground. So we know what the challenges are, we know that we’re not counting on her support right now, but I’m looking forward to working with her once we make it past this.”
Cuellar and Cisneros encountered one another Saturday morning in Laredo during the annual Washington's Birthday Celebration Association Parade. As Cuellar passed by, standing in the back of a pickup, Cisneros, surrounded by a section of supporters chanting her first name, moved into the street and said something to him. She later told The Texas Tribune she had pressed him over his refusal to debate her.
Justice Democrats panned Pelosi's campaign office visit, saying in a statement that it is "utterly shameful, especially considering that Cuellar doesn’t even have the courage to debate his opponent."