Other than, perhaps, Beto O’Rourke, few politicians have generated quite as much interest or excitement lately among Democrats as freshman House member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She already generated political buzz after her stunning upset over 10-term incumbent Joseph Crowley. Now, a group that backed the unabashedly progressive Ocasio-Cortez hopes to pull off a similar upset in the Lone Star State. The political committee, which calls itself Justice Democrats, now has its sights set on toppling Democrat and veteran South Texas Congressman Henry Cuellar.
Dave Weigel, national political correspondent for The Washington Post, says Justice Democrats is very closely aligned with Ocasio-Cortez. The group began as a post-2016 supporter of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. They worked to elect first-time Democrats on platforms that resembled those of Sanders – Medicare for All, a $15 minimum wage.
Weigel says Ocasio-Cortez was the group’s one major success in 2018. He says they learned from their win and their losses.
“The best way to change the party is not to do kind of a Hail Mary pass in a swing district or a conservative district,” Weigel says. “It’s to find a place that is likely to elect a Democrat anyway, and making sure they elect a liberal.”
Weigel says Cuellar is in the sights of Justice Democrats because of where he gets some of his campaign money. Cuellar has ties to the energy industry in Texas. They also find fault with Cuellar for backing Texas GOP Congressman John Carter in his re-election fight against MJ Hegar, his Democratic opponent in 2018.
Weigel points out that Cuellar himself won his seat by challenging another Democrat in a primary, but also says that Cuellar thinks Justice Democrats is hurting Democrats overall.
“He can’t really make an existential case against primary incumbents,” Weigel says. “[But] he just says that these particular people going after him are ineffective and hurting the party.”
Weigel says groups like Justice Democrats are focusing on Cuellar, and on other races below the top of the ticket, because they believe the key to success is to not “obsess” about who runs for president. But they know, Weigel says, that a presidential campaign year means that more voters will turn out.
Written by Shelly Brisbin.