Bernie Sanders endorses Jessica Cisneros, primary challenger to Henry Cuellar

Photo does not have a caption

Jessica Cisneros introduces U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachussets, at Warren's town hall in Austin, Sept. 10, 2019. Warren announced her endorsement to Cisneros' campaign against U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, on Sept 11, 2019. Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is wading into one of Texas’ most closely watched primary challenges, endorsing progressive candidate Jessica Cisneros who has mounted a bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress.

“This is the most important election in our lifetime and I’m proud there are so many candidates running for Congress who understand that real change comes from the bottom on up, not the top on down,” Sanders said in a statement.

Cisneros was one of nine candidates Sanders endorsed early Wednesday, in addition to incumbent Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Peter Welch of Vermont.

Some progressives have weighed in wondering why it took Sanders so long to endorse Cisneros, a young immigration attorney from Laredo. Prior to Sanders’ endorsement, the 26-year-old already had the support of fellow presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren and U.S. Reps. Ayanna Pressley, D-Massachusetts, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York.

Justice Democrats, the progressive group famous for helping elect Ocasio-Cortez, also endorsed Cisernos last year.

Cuellar campaign spokesman Colin Strother brushed off the Sanders endorsement as out-of-state meddling by Democrats unfamiliar with the South Texas district.

“While our opponent focuses on out-of-district and celebrity endorsements, we are focused on endorsements from people who actually live and work in the district,” Strother told The Texas Tribune. “That’s why we have over 225 local elected officials endorsing Henry Cuellar for reelection.”

The endorsement comes as Sanders ramps up his campaign in Texas ahead of Super Tuesday on March 3. On Tuesday, his campaign unveiled plans for a $2.5 million TV ad buy across Texas and California — another delegate-rich Super Tuesday state — and told The Texas Tribune that it has staffed up in the Lonestar State with five regional field directors. The campaign is also dispatching a top surrogate — national co-chair Nina Turner — to Houston this week.