Illinois Rep. Lipinski loses to insurgent Marie Newman in high-profile Democratic primary rematch

March 18, 2020

The Washington Post: Illinois Rep. Lipinski loses to insurgent Marie Newman in high-profile Democratic primary rematch
By Mike Debonis

Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.), one of the last antiabortion Democrats in Congress, lost his bid for renomination to a ninth term Tuesday to a more liberal challenger, business executive and activist Marie Newman.

The race had been closely watched as a test of whether a socially conservative Democrat could maintain support among the party’s base in a solid blue seat — and whether the dwindling number of Democratic lawmakers opposing abortion would be further culled by primary voters.

While Lipinski won support from trade unions and some business groups, key national advocacy groups and liberal activist networks coalesced behind Newman as a better match for a district that preferred Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race by 15 percentage points over Donald Trump.

With 95 percent of precincts reporting, Newman held a roughly 3,800-vote lead — about four percentage points. The Associated Press declared Newman the winner shortly after midnight.

“I am bursting with pride and gratitude for the amazing coalition that helped bring about much needed change in our district,” Newman tweeted. “We are going to work together to lower health care costs, to fight climate change, and to build an economy that works for everyone.”

Lipinski, who is the first member of Congress to lose a renomination bid in the 2020 election cycle, declined to concede in a posting to his campaign Facebook account: “It is very close. We may have to wait overnight or into the morning for the final vote count.”

The election was upended in its closing phases by the coronavirus pandemic, with both candidates canceling their election night parties and encouraging voters to cast early ballots if possible rather than risk an in-person visit to polling places Tuesday.

The race was a rematch of the 2018 Democratic primary in the 3rd Congressional District, which is anchored in the working-class neighborhoods of Chicago’s South Side but stretches westward along the Des Plaines River into more affluent suburbs.

Lipinski won a two-point victory in the last primary by marshaling voters in Chicago precincts to overcome Newman’s strength in the suburbs before securing an easy victory in the general election. A year later, Newman announced she would try again.

Lipinski’s unapologetic antiabortion views — and Newman’s outspoken support for abortion rights — had been the dominant topic in a district that is heavily Democratic but also has a socially conservative strain rooted in the largely Catholic ethnic communities of Chicago.

“I am pro-life — there’s no question about that,” he said at a candidate forum aired by WTTW-TV last week. “Most people do not believe we should have abortion on demand up until birth; that, I believe, is an extreme position, and that is something I do not support. But I think the majority of people don’t support that.”

Newman, in the forum, said her views were simply more “in alignment” with her district, and she has sought to expand her message to an embrace of a single-payer, Medicare-for-all health-care system — and noting that Lipinski was one of a handful of Democrats who opposed the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010.

Besides Lipinski, only Reps. Henry Cuellar (D-Tex.), Ben McAdams (D-Utah) and Collin C. Peterson (D-Minn.) hold a rating over 25 percent on the National Right to Life Committee’s legislative scorecard.

Newman said she would “be a worker bee in Congress and get health care done” — an indirect shot at Lipinski’s argument that, with eight terms in Congress and a spot on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, he is better positioned to deliver for the district.

In a call with reporters arranged by Emily’s List last week, Newman said she was well positioned to succeed Tuesday where she fell short two years ago: “As you can imagine, your first time out, you learn a lot. And I did. There’s things that I didn’t do well and are now doing well.”

Both candidates raised and spent well over $1 million, according to campaign finance reports filed late last month, with Lipinski slightly outspending Newman. But Newman benefited from about $1.5 million in outside spending vs. the roughly $350,000 spent to elect Lipinski.

A super PAC affiliated with Emily’s List, which is an activist group devoted to electing female Democrats, led the charge with nearly $1 million, while NARAL Pro-Choice America, the Sierra Club and the Service Employees International Union also spent heavily for Newman. The plumbers and pipefitters trade union spent nearly $160,000 in support of Lipinski, with the National Association of Realtors and the bipartisan advocacy group No Labels also chipping in — as well as the Susan B. Anthony List, an antiabortion group that typically backs Republicans.

A third Democratic candidate, Rush Darwish, also raised significant amounts of money, reporting more than $780,000 in receipts as of last month.

Earlier this month, in another primary challenge to a conservative Democratic incumbent, Cuellar fended off attorney Jessica Cisneros, who also ran with the support of Emily’s List and liberal luminaries of the Democratic Party. That race was seen as an early test of whether moderate and conservative incumbents could withstand focused opposition from the left — including groups such as the Justice Democrats and prominent figures such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who successfully mounted her own insurgent campaign in 2018.

Newman had the backing of Ocasio-Cortez, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. But many Democrats placed the Lipinski race in a different category, given the amount of institutional support Newman had been able to amass — not only from Emily’s List and other major advocacy organizations, but also from Lipinski’s own colleagues in the Illinois House delegation, as well as a constellation of local officials including Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D).

And while Cuellar benefited from a last-minute fundraising visit from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), top Democrats largely kept their distance from Lipinski.

Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), the chairwoman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, canceled an appearance last year at a Chicago fundraiser for Lipinski after an uproar from liberal elements of the party.