SAN ANTONIO- Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (DN.Y.) spoke in support of progressive House candidates Jessica Cisneros and Greg Casar in Texas on Saturday, using her star power to influence the first major intraparty contests of the midterm election cycle.
Speaking to hundreds of people assembled in a partially outdoor concert venue, Ocasio-Cortez sang the praises of Cisneros and Casar, painting them as future progressive allies in Congress.
But she also portrayed the fight as an important proxy battle that could strike another blow against the Democratic Party’s centrist establishment.
“This is about making sure we send a message: Do not mess with Texas progressives!” she declared.
Ocasio-Cortez recounted how the years she spent as a community organizer in South Texas when she was in her late teens and early 20s convinced her that Democrats will eventually flip Texas. Shed argue that electing Cisneros and Casar, who are capable of exciting the state’s young and racially diverse electorate, could hasten that process.
“That’s why I’m here: for the long haul,” said Ocasio-Cortez, vowing to return. “I don’t care how many cycles it takes, it is going to happen.”
“Texas turning blue is inevitable!” she added. “It will happen. The only question is when, Texas!”
Texas Democrats cast ballots in primary elections on March 1, but Ocasio-Cortez’s visit was timed to precede the start of early voting on Monday. The New York lawmaker is headlining a second rally for Casar in Austin on Sunday.
Casar, an Austin city councilman, is competing in an open race against state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez and former San Antonio Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran, both of whom are less left-wing than him.
Neither he nor Ocasio-Cortez mentioned his opponents, focusing instead on his work as an immigrant worker organizer and city councilman.
“We are brought together here by a belief that is unshakable and cannot be dispelled, that this is our state, these are our neighborhoods, these are our families,” he said. “And we’re going to organize like hell until this democracy delivers for us.”
Cisneros, an immigration attorney, is once again challenging Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) in a district that stretches from San Antonio down to Laredo and part of the Rio Grande Valley. Cisneros surprised poll watchers with a scrappy showing in 2020 that brought her within 4 percentage points of defeating Cuellar.
“We forced them to look down to South Texas and look at what was happening—the special thing that was happening,” Cisneros recalled.
Unlike in Casar’s race, Cisneros is up against a veritable villain for the left. Cuellar, an opponent of abortion rights and an ally of the fossil fuel industry, is perhaps the most conservative Democrat in Congress.
Ocasio-Cortez said that while she normally doesn’t speak ill of her colleagues, Cuellar “decided to put my name in his mouth, so let’s talk.” Cuellar had dismissed her as a “far-left celebrity” ahead of her visit to campaign for Cisneros.
“He is bankrolled by big money. So from a very basic level, if you are just a person in our democracy and you have a representative that is bankrolled by the Koch brothers and by Wall Street ― and by every name in the book ― you have to worry about whether he’s listening to you or listening to them,” she said.
Ocasio-Cortez also noted Cuellar’s vote against the PRO act, legislation that would make it easier to unionize, and likened Cuellar to Sen. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.), who has held up President Joe Biden’s ambitious Build Back Better climate and social policy bill. While Cuellar helped force a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill ahead of Build Back Better, he ultimately voted for the version of Build Back Better that passed the house in November.
Like Ocasio-Cortez, Cisneros and Casar are part of a younger generation of progressive Latinos who are less patient with the incremental change preferred by many Democratic politicians elected during earlier eras. They both support “Medicare for All,” a Green New Deal, canceling student debt, and an expansive approach to immigrant rights.
“We are offering an alternative vision for South Texas, one that’s fighting to recognize that health care is human right and not a privilege, one that’s going to have Medicare for All, one that’s going to have a $15 minimum wage, one that’s going to fund education, one that’s not going to have a border wall, one that’s going to fund the people here,” Cisneros said.
Ocasio-Cortez’s visit reflects her continued role as a progressive figure capable of drawing national attention and fundraising. In 2021 alone, she campaigned for Buffalo, New York, mayoral candidate India Walton, Ohio congressional candidate Nina Turner, and New York City mayoral candidate Maya Wiley. In all three instances, her preferred contender fell short of victory, though candidates she has backed in previous cycles, such as Rep. Jamaal Bowman (DN.Y.), won with her help.
One factor that may compare Ocasio-Cortez’s effectiveness in shaping electoral outcomes with her visits is that her following is so passionate that, as was evident on Saturday, her rallies draw people from well outside the districts whose voters she is trying to sway.
She also inspires a level of contempt on the right that matches the enthusiasm she elicits on the left. Kyle Sinclair, a Republican candidate challenging Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), convened a raucous counterdemonstration across the street from Ocasio-Cortez’s rally. Judging by some of the right-leaning protesters’ signs, which included a “MAGA” acronym that stood for “Make AOC Go Away,” Ocasio-Cortez, rather than Casar or Cisneros, was the main draw.
But at a pre-rally press conference, Casar maintained that Ocasio-Cortez’s endorsement has already been a major benefit for him with voters.
“You might see that hate online, but we’re not seeing it in the community,” he said. “She’s by far the most popular progressive politician from Austin down to San Antonio.”