Moderate Texas lawmakers blame progressive issues for election results

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If anyone thought the 2020 election results would put a pin in the 4-year internal strife among Democrats of different ideological stripes, they were wrong.

Three weeks after the election, moderate lawmakers in Texas are deadset on warning others that the left-leaning policies of their progressive colleagues are hurting Democrats at the ballot box.

“Defund police, open borders, socialism — it’s killing us,” Rep. Vicente Gonzalez said in a Democratic conference call last week with Democrats, according to the New York Times. Gonzalez said white voters associate socialism with Nordic countries, but Asian and Hispanic voters associate it with “left-wing regimes.”

Gonzalez narrowly won re-election by three percentage points in his South Texas congressional district TX-15. In 2018, he won by a 20-point margin, suggesting real Republican inroads into reaching Latino voters or a weak performance by Democrats in the majority-Latino region.

Rep. Henry Cuellar, a moderate Democrat who faced a progressive challenge from Jessica Cisneros, made similar comments to Axios this week. He blamed “defund the police rhetoric” and progressive climate policies that were portrayed as killing oil jobs for Republican gains along the U.S.-Mexico border. 

Cisneros, who supported a Green New Deal and Medicare for All, responded on Twitter with a screenshot of her four-point primary margins with Cuellar. 

Natalie Montelongo, the executive director of Julián Castro’s PAC People First Future, pushed back on Texas lawmakers who were blaming Medicare for All and a Green New Deal by sharing a photo of the 2020 primary results in the state, where Sen. Bernie Sanders won half the state, including the Rio Grande Valley. 

In an interview with the Signal last week, Gilberto Hinojosa doubted that those two issues cost Democrats votes, but admitted that the way Republicans took Biden’s position on fracking out of context was effective in South Texas. He also revealed that the Biden campaign spent only $15,000 in organizing the same region, another overlooked reason for losses in the region. 

Another piece of compelling evidence for why the new wave of progressive candidates and elected officials are less of a problem for moderate Democrats than they may believe: in Texas, Democrats lost all 10 Republican congressional districts targeted by Democrats with candidates across the ideological spectrum.

One reflection worth reading concerning this debate is from Sri Kulkarni, who ran on supporting Medicare for All in 2018 and did not support it in his second bid for Congress in 2020. He argues that Republican disinformation and attack ads labeled him and Joe Biden a socialist regardless of the planks on their platform, and admitted that running a more “centrist” campaign helped him with donors, but not voters.

Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

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