U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar’s former staffer running against him as a Republican

Jose Sanz. (Courtesy Of Campaign, Courtesy Of Campaign)

Sign up for The Brief, The Texas Tribune’s daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.

Recommended Videos

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, has a new Republican challenger for reelection who is a familiar face: his former district director.

Jose Sanz announced Wednesday he was running for Cuellar’s seat in the 28th Congressional District in South Texas after working for him for two years. He was first a press secretary and then district director.

“The experience was unparalleled,” Sanz said in a news release. “However, over time it became clear that my values and beliefs did not align with those of the office. I had to make a change so I could fight for what matters to me most ... my conservative ideals and the ability to represent the family values of the people of District 28 in Washington, D.C.”

Cuellar’s campaign was quick to respond.

“For the second cycle in a row, we welcome another Republican candidate to the race that has no experience and is not from the 28th Congressional District of Texas,” a Cuellar spokesperson, Jake Hochberg, said in a statement. “We will win again, decisively.”

Sanz was born in Mexico City, raised in the Houston suburbs and currently lives in Laredo, where he is also registered to vote, according to his campaign.

Sanz’s campaign is the latest twist in years of political drama following Cuellar. He had close primary battles in 2020 and 2022 against Jessica Cisneros, a challenger from the left who was also his former intern. During the 2022 primary, the FBI raided his home in Laredo and while he has denied any wrongdoing, it remains unclear why it happened. He has not been arrested or charged.

The 2022 primary also included the leaking of the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, drawing unwelcome attention to Cuellar’s status as the lonely House Democrat who opposes abortion.

National Republicans targeted Cuellar in the 2022 general election, part of an all-out offensive in predominantly Hispanic South Texas. But Cuellar triumphed, beating his GOP opponent, Cassy Garcia, by a wider-than-expected margin.

The National Republican Congressional Committee has its sights set on South Texas again in 2024, but they are not targeting Cuellar. A Republican who declared against Cuellar earlier this year, Kyle Sinclair, abandoned his campaign in June.

Cisneros has not ruled out a third run against Cuellar, but he has been working to avoid that, securing the endorsements of House Democratic leaders and reaching out to labor groups who previously opposed him.

Beyond his experience in Cuellar’s office, Sanz’s announcement described him as a “former ESPN-Mexico television sports analyst” who came to the United States with his family when he was 9 years old. He went to school in suburban Houston before attending the University of Houston, according to his campaign.

Sanz promised to prioritize border security, a major issue for both parties in the district.

When it comes to immigration, Cuellar has been known to focus more on security and enforcement than others in his party.

Sanz worked in Cuellar’s office from August 2021 through at least June of this year, according to LegiStorm, a platform for data on Congress.

“I know this district well,” Sanz said in the announcement. “It is a conservative district and it wants a Congressman who will protect their family values and way of life.”

Disclosure: University of Houston has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.