WASHINGTON — Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, had been a near lock for reelection. But the question of who will represent the district is more debatable now after Cuellar and his wife were indicted last week on federal conspiracy and bribery charges.

What You Need To Know

  • This year, Cuellar's reelection bid was supposed to be easier after his moderate views and opposition to abortion rights drew progressive challengers in the past, but that all changed last week when Cuellar and his wife were indicted over allegations that they accepted $600,000 in bribes from two foreign entities

  • Some political analysts said the indictment brings a new level of uncertainty to the race, with some national Republican groups calling on Cuellar to resign 

  • Local Democratic party leaders in South Texas said that Cuellar is innocent until proven guilty, and some national Democratic strategists are confident he can win again due to his deep roots in the district

  • Experts say the competitiveness of Cuellar's reelection bid could come down to how much voters are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt

The longtime Laredo lawmaker is a self-proclaimed moderate and the last Democrat in the U.S. House who opposes abortion rights. His views on that issue drew progressive challengers in the past, but this year, Cuellar’s primary was uncontested. So, 2024 was supposed to be an easier reelection. That all changed Friday when Cuellar and his wife were indicted over allegations that they accepted $600,000 in bribes from two foreign entities. 

“It’s really kind of tragic because he has been one of the most prolific, one of the most beneficial. He has brought great, great benefit to our district,” Sylia Bruni, chair of the Webb County Democratic Party, told Spectrum News. 

Some political analysts said the indictment brings a new level of uncertainty to the race.

“There may be more national Republican money put into the race then there are otherwise would have been, and it certainly goes from one race where Cuellar would have had the heavy advantage to one that is at least potentially in play,” said Matthew Wilson, political science professor at Southern Methodist University.  

Cuellar denies any wrongdoing and vows he will win again. He has represented the 28th Congressional District in South Texas since 2005, and ever since, he has brought federal dollars back to the community, especially as the lone Texas Democrat on the powerful appropriations committee. 

Bruni said Webb County Democrats believe in the rule of law and the justice system.

“He’s the Democratic candidate, and he’s going to be supported by the party. And in the meantime, the judicial system runs its course, and we’ll see what happens after that,” Bruni said. “He’s presumed innocent until proven otherwise, and then we continue to do what we need to be doing and that is raising the voice, raising the vote of this district.”

Meanwhile, the National Republican Congressional Committee called on Cuellar to resign. 

“Henry Cuellar does not put Texas first, he puts himself first. If his colleagues truly believe in putting ‘people over politics,’ they will call on him to resign. If not—they are hypocrites whose statements about public service aren’t worth the paper they’re written on,” said NRCC spokesperson Delanie Bomar. 

Two Republicans, Jay Furman and Lazaro Garza, face off in a primary runoff on May 28 for the opportunity to take on Cuellar in the fall. Shortly after the news of the indictment broke, both Republicans shared statements criticizing Cuellar as part of the political establishment. 

In the past, Cuellar has relied on the help of Democratic leadership and that may have to be the case again this year. 

“Henry Cuellar has admirably devoted his career to public service and is a valued member of the House Democratic Caucus. Like any American, Congressman Cuellar is entitled to his day in court and the presumption of innocence throughout the legal process,” said a spokesperson for House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries.

One Democratic strategist, who did not wish to be identified, did not seem worried and told Spectrum News “South Texas continues to reelect Henry Cuellar because they know him and trust him to deliver results for his district. We remain confident that he will keep this seat again.”

This week, Sabato’s Crystal Ball and the Cook Political Report, which assess the competitiveness of House elections, changed Cuellar’s district from “likely Democrat” to “lean Democrat.”

Some political experts said that could all depend on how many voters are willing to give Cuellar the benefit of the doubt. 

“Voters are going to have to decide how much they trust him, how much they’re willing to take his word for things, and essentially, you’ll see how much credibility and goodwill he’s built up in the district over his long political career,” Wilson said.