‘Accidental congressman’ Lipinski draws another primary challenge

Democrats upset by how Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.) acquired his seat and what he’s done with it will give the second-termer another primary challenge in 2008.

Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney Mark Pera has filed papers with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), and yesterday told The Hill that he will announce his candidacy for Lipinski’s seat after July 4.

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Lipinski won his seat in 2004 after his father, Rep. William Lipinski, decided not to run for reelection after having won the Democratic primary. In a move that has not sat well with some Democrats, the younger Lipinski, a political science professor in Tennessee who had not lived in the state for years, was nominated to replace his father with no opposition.

He sailed through the general election in a solidly Democratic district that contains southwest Chicago and its suburbs.

Daniel Lipinski’s detractors contend that he is out of sync with the district on social issues — he is socially conservative on issues such as abortion and stem cell research — and he has riled the liberal base with what it sees as his continued support for the Iraq war.

Lipinski recently voted against a bill that would have set a withdrawal deadline in Iraq and voted for the Iraq war supplemental. He was also one of 16 Democrats to vote against a bill expanding funding for embryonic stem cell research last week.

Pera and other anti-Lipinski forces contend the lawmaker’s voting record does not reflect a district that, while traditionally considered culturally conservative, is growing more liberal. The district voted nearly 60 percent for both Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Vice President Al Gore (D) in the last two presidential elections.

“The distaste in people’s mouths about the way that Dan Lipinski got the position is still very strong,” Pera, who is also a local school board chairman, said. “If anything, it’s gotten worse for him.

“He’s just way outside the mainstream of the Democratic Party on many issues.”

A spokesman for Lipinski said the congressman “is focused on his legislative agenda in the 110th Congress.”

“He’s working on issues such as energy independence, ensuring a balanced and efficient transportation system, fighting for the interests of our seniors and veterans and working towards a cleaner environment for ourselves and our future generations,” spokesman Jason Tai said.

Tai also noted that Lipinski has been a leader of a bipartisan effort to implement the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group.

In 2006, Lipinski took just more than half the Democratic primary vote, but his opposition was evenly split between two candidates, financial planner John Kelly and Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney John Sullivan, who took 25 and 20 percent, respectively.

Still, Lipinski’s 55 percent take surprised many and showed that a united primary challenge could have a chance.

Pera said he has spoken to Sullivan about the race, and Sullivan told him he would not run. Kelly has not filed any financial disclosure forms since the 2006 primary, and the FEC has sent him several letters requesting the filings.

Local Democrats say they are not hearing any other names mentioned as possible candidates.
The primary next year is set for the same day as the presidential primary, Feb. 5, and Pera said he aims to raise between $750,000 and $1 million for the race. He said he can self-fund to a limited extent, “but not a million dollars.”

Pera has run for legislative office before, losing a bid for the state House in 1996.

During the last two months, he said he has raised about $50,000. In 2004, Lipinski raised about $370,000 for the whole cycle. Lipinski raised $30,000 in the first quarter and has just less than $100,000 in cash on hand.

Eric Davis, a local Democratic activist and Oak Park Township trustee who said he intends to work for Pera, called Lipinski the “accidental congressman” and said Pera is well-qualified but will face challenges.

“You have to have people understand that the guy’s for real,” Davis said. “We’ve seen other challenges to incumbent congressmen in the area from progressives, and they didn’t reach the threshold of believability in their candidacy. I think Mark will have an easier time of that.”

National Democrats have a policy of supporting incumbents in primaries.

“Congressman Lipinski is an effective representative for his district and has a strong record of getting things done,” a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Ryan Rudominer, said.