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Julián Castro endorses Rep. Cuellar's primary opponent in Texas

Julián Castro endorses Rep. Cuellar's primary opponent in Texas
© Greg Nash

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary and Texas native Julián Castro has endorsed Jessica Cisneros, who's challenging Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) in a Democratic primary.

“The people of South Texas deserve a homegrown champion for hardworking families, good paying jobs, better health care, and immigrants’ rights,” Castro said in a statement Friday. “I’m proud to endorse Jessica Cisneros because she will put the people of South Texas first, not special interests or Washington politics.”

Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio who dropped out of the presidential race in January and threw his support to Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenInequality of student loan debt underscores possible Biden policy shift Thomas Piketty says pandemic is opportunity to address income inequality The Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation MORE (D-Mass.), marks Cisneros’s first big-name endorsement from an in-state Democrat.

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Castro’s twin brother, Rep. Joaquin CastroJoaquin CastroMeet the three Democrats who could lead foreign affairs in the House Hispanic Caucus endorses Castro for Foreign Affairs gavel Progressive Democrats call on Pompeo to condemn Israeli demolition of Beduin village MORE, is chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, though Texas Democrats in Congress have stayed relatively silent on the race. 

Cisneros, a 26-year-old immigration attorney, has criticized Cuellar for taking corporate PAC money from the fossil fuel industry and private prison groups that run detention camps in his district.

"As mayor of San Antonio, as housing secretary, and throughout his career, Secretary Castro has shown us how to talk about and localize major issues, and I am so grateful for his role in elevating immigration policy on the presidential debate stage," she said in a statement.

The Cuellar campaign has dismissed Cisneros, who is backed by the progressive group Justice Democrats, as an outsider who is out of touch with the district.

Cuellar's team said Friday that the Castro endorsement won't budge the polls. 

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“They're my friend, as is his brother, they're both former clients,” Cuellar campaign manager Colin Strother told The Hill, though he added that “if you look at how Julián was polling in Texas, one could argue no one recognized his name."

Strother ripped Castro over the phrasing of his endorsement, saying, "he has an awful political instinct and a solid record of backing losers."

"He could’ve said ‘Oh, I think we need more Latinas in politics, I think we need term limits.’ But to personally attack Henry, it’s a really baseless, classless thing to say, and I’m shocked. Maybe national politics has changed him and he’s not the guy I’ve known for 20 years. … Now he’s created enemies where he’s had friends before," he said.

Cuellar enjoys the backing of Democratic House leaders including Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiObama chief economist says Democrats should accept smaller coronavirus relief package if necessary The five biggest challenges facing President-elect Biden Democrats were united on top issues this Congress — but will it hold? MORE (Calif.) and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairwoman Cheri BustosCheryl (Cheri) Lea BustosDemocratic Women's Caucus members split endorsements for House campaign chief Rep. Rick Allen tests positive for COVID-19 Maloney vows to overhaul a House Democratic campaign machine 'stuck in the past' MORE (Ill.). He’s also endorsed by more than 225 local elected officials and the San Antonio Express-News.

Cisneros, meanwhile, has been endorsed by several Progressive Caucus members, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezClub for Growth to launch ad blitz in Georgia to juice GOP turnout Trump will soon be out of office — but polarization isn't going anywhere Trump tweets Thanksgiving criticism of NFL QBs for kneeling MORE (D-N.Y.). And last week, the Texas chapter of the AFL-CIO endorsed her as well.

Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings show that in the fourth quarter of 2019, Cisneros out-raised Cuellar, $517,000 compared to his $431,000, though the incumbent had $2.9 million cash-on-hand compared to her $615,000.

The Texas primary takes place March 3, Super Tuesday.