Dems set for abortion showdown in Illinois

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A Democratic primary in Illinois has been thrust into the national spotlight as progressives attempt to unseat one of the only House Democrats opposed to abortion rights.

Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.), a staunch anti-abortion lawmaker, is facing a primary challenge from the left from Marie Newman. Lipinski’s opponent has garnered high-profile support, with backing from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-N.Y.) leadership PAC and a slew of progressive groups focused on women’s and LGBT issues.

Newman, a marketing consultant, is going up against an entrenched incumbent with a cash advantage. But some Democrats believe the primary could be a test case for the party as Democrats continue to grapple with an internal debate over whether to support candidates opposed to abortion rights.

{mosads}“This is really a chance for Democrats in the district to step up and vote for someone who represents their values,” said James Owens, a spokesman for NARAL Pro-Choice America, one of the abortion-rights groups backing Newman. “This could send a signal to the nation as to what Democrats will stand for and run on in 2018.”

Lipinski, a co-chair of the centrist Blue Dog Coalition, has represented the Chicago-area district since 2005, when his father vacated the seat.

Since then, Lipinski hasn’t faced many competitive primary races. The congressman didn’t have a primary opponent in 2016 and said his only tough primary was in 2008, when he squared off against a well-funded candidate. He ended up easily winning that contest with about 54 percent of the vote.

But Newman believes she can mount a credible challenge, especially with the recent boost from national progressive groups. She argues that Lipinski’s views on abortion rights, immigration and LGBT rights are “antiquated” and out of step with a district that backed Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the 2016 presidential primary and Hillary Clinton in the general election.

Lipinski, a co-chair of the Bipartisan Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, was one of only six House Democrats who voted in 2013 for a ban on abortions after 20 weeks. He also voted against the Affordable Care Act in 2010.

On LGBT issues, Lipinski voted in 2011 to uphold the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which denied federal benefits to same-sex couples. The Supreme Court struck down parts of DOMA in 2013.

“The climate that we’re in right now, people are taking a very close look at their representatives, and in Illinois’s 3rd District, they do not like what they see,” Newman told The Hill.

“He has antiquated views on almost every single topic,” she continued, saying that Lipinski “acts like a Republican in every way.”

The internal debate over supporting anti-abortion candidates has roiled the Democratic Party, putting some party leaders at odds with the progressive wing.

Some Democratic leaders and groups like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), House Democrats’ campaign arm, believe Democrats can be a big-tent party that embraces those candidates. But many progressive groups believe support for abortion rights is non-negotiable.

The DCCC has typically supported incumbents in primaries, but didn’t respond to requests for comment about whether it would back Lipinski.

Newman plans to seize on abortion in her campaign, but Lipinski said he’s faced pushback from similar groups over that issue in previous campaigns. He said he takes every challenge seriously, but is confident he can win reelection with support from voters who have backed him for years.

“My voting record is very much in line with my district. You can never please everybody. I try to do my best in that regard in representing my constituents,” Lipinski told The Hill.

“I think that the support I’ve received throughout my career in the Democratic primary shows that I’m really in line with a large portion of my district.”

Newman’s biggest hurdle in the primary will be Lipinski’s fundraising and name recognition advantages as a 12-year incumbent.

Newman and her supporters acknowledge that challenge, although she said she’s gotten a significant bump over the past four weeks.

Newman has brought in less than $300,000 over the last two fundraising quarters. She has just over $97,000 cash on hand, while Lipinski has $1.5 million.

Democratic strategists say Newman will need to step on the gas over the next four months if she’s going to convince Democrats to ditch their longtime representative. She’ll also be competing for ad space in the expensive Chicago media market with other high-profile races, including Illinois’s governor race.

“Time is running out and unfortunately for Marie’s campaign … this is a busy cycle,” said Thomas Bowen, a prominent Democratic strategist in Illinois who briefly consulted for Newman at the beginning of the year.

“There’s a very competitive and expensive TV season ahead of all of us and that makes it difficult to unseat incumbents,” he continued. “It’s all a question of whether you have the resources to communicate and we just don’t know that answer yet.”

But Bowen noted that the special elections over the summer that garnered national attention were evidence that grass-roots activists can quickly pull together large sums of money to be competitive.

While some believe the district has become more left-leaning due to Sanders’s primary victory, Lipinski pushed back on that characterization and said the Vermont senator mobilized voters because of his message to middle-class families.

Lipinski said he wasn’t surprised that Sanders won the primary and said the two overlap on issues like building up manufacturing and opposing what they believe are unfair trade agreements.

Strategists say Lipinski has strong support among labor unions, specifically on trade issues, and has been a longtime member of the House’s transportation committee.

“He’s been upfront and honest about what he is and his constituents respond to him,” a Democratic strategist who has worked with Blue Dog lawmakers said. “If you have a district that goes for Bernie then Clinton, they are making a conscious decision to vote for him.”

Tags Bernie Sanders Daniel Lipinski Hillary Clinton Kirsten Gillibrand
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