A centrist super PAC backing Rep. Henry Cuellar, a conservative Democrat representing Texas’ 28th Congressional District, is suggesting in a new television advertisement that Cuellar would protect abortion rights despite his opposition to those rights.
The group, Mainstream Democrats, has spent over $177,000 to bolster Cuellar ahead of a May 24 Democratic primary runoff election for his South Texas seat against progressive attorney Jessica Cisneros.
Cisneros, a supporter of abortion rights backed by pro-choice groups, has intensified her attacks on Cuellar’s record of opposing abortion rights following a leaked draft of a Supreme Court decision that would overturn the federal right to abortion.
The 30-second TV spot from Mainstream Democrats pushes back against that criticism in a way that stops short of outright lying, but is nonetheless misleading.
“With women’s rights under attack from extremists, Democrat Henry Cuellar has made it clear that he opposes a ban on abortion,” the narrator says in the ad. “Let’s send Henry Cuellar back to Congress so he can keep standing up for us.”
The ad cites as its source an Associated Press article reprinted by U.S. News and World Report from early May reporting that Cuellar supports allowing abortions in cases of rape, incest, or a threat to the life of the mother.
Technically, this could mean that Cuellar does not support a “ban” on abortion in all cases, but it fails to note that he is the only abortion rights opponent in the House Democratic Caucus.
He cast the sole vote against a bill that the House passed in September prohibiting state governments from restricting abortion. Democrats have portrayed the bill, a version of which failed in a Senate vote on Wednesday, as a way to codify federal abortion rights ahead of the top court’s expected overturning of the Roe v. Wade landmark law that has guaranteed those rights for a half-century.
Waleed Shahid, a spokesperson for the left-wing group Justice Democrats supporting Cisneros, characterized the ad as a sign of desperation on the part of Cuellar’s allies.
“Jessica has put him on the defensive and now his billionaire backers are lying to voters about his long voting record opposing reproductive rights,” Shahid said.
A spokesperson for the super PAC, which is funded in significant part by billionaire LinkedIn co-founder and Democratic megadonor Reid Hoffman, told HuffPost that the ad drew upon a statement Cuellar issued criticizing the leaked draft opinion.
“As a Catholic, I do not support abortion, however, we cannot have an outright ban,” he said. “There must be exceptions in the case of rape, incest, and danger to the life of the mother.”
Cisneros, who challenged Cuellar unsuccessfully in 2020, trailed Cuellar by 2 percentage points in the first round of the primary in March. The presence of a third Democratic candidate, Tannya Benavides, however, prevented Cuellar from obtaining an outright majority, prompting an automatic runoff between the top two vote-getters.
Some signs suggest that this month’s leak of the Supreme Court’s draft decision overturning Roe v. Wade has given Cisneros momentum. Internal polling shows Cisneros ahead of Cuellar, according to sources who spoke to Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report.
Cuellar continues to argue that his endangered brand of social conservatism is the right fit for predominantly Latino and working-class districts in South Texas. Like many such seats, Texas’ 28th shifted significantly toward then-President Donald Trump in 2020. Although Hillary Clinton carried the seat by nearly 20 percentage points, President Joe Biden won there by just 4 percentage points.
Earlier this month, Cisneros called upon House Democratic leaders to withdraw their support for Cuellar in the wake of the Supreme Court leak. House Democrats, fearful that a loss for Cuellar would open the door to a GOP takeover in the South Texas seat, have resisted those calls.
But Benavides, who also supports abortion rights, endorsed Cisneros on Wednesday.