Anti-abortion Dem’s political career on the line in Illinois

Greg Nash

Progressive Democrats will try to topple anti-abortion rights Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.) in a primary Tuesday that has highlighted divisions within the party.

First-time candidate Marie Newman has landed support from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and other progressives looking to move the party leftward and end Lipinski’s career.

{mosads}But Lipinski, who has represented the Chicago-area district since 2005, has shored up support from both party leaders in Washington and the House Democrats’ campaign arm.

Lipinski, a co-chairman of the moderate Blue Dog Coalition, is no stranger to primary challenges from the left. But now he faces his toughest reelection race to date, coming under fire for voting against marriage equality, ObamaCare and the DREAM Act in 2010.

Lipinski was also one of only six House Democrats who voted in 2013 for a ban on abortions after 20 weeks, a vote that’s inflamed pro-abortion rights activists who see Lipinski as out of step with his party on the issue.

Whoever earns the Democratic nomination on Tuesday will be all but certain to win the seat in November, since it’s a reliably blue district that Hillary Clinton carried by 15 points in 2016. And Republicans have disavowed their only candidate in the race: Arthur Jones, a white supremacist and Holocaust denier.

That has Democrats who support abortion rights wondering why the party needs to compromise by running an anti-abortion rights candidate, when any Democrat is practically guaranteed to carry the seat.

The primary will test the enthusiasm of grass-roots Democrats following President Trump’s election. Regardless of Tuesday’s outcome, though, some believe that the party is now largely in agreement about what policy positions are nonnegotiable.

Newman’s candidacy has been boosted by Citizens For A Better Illinois, a coalition of progressive, women’s rights and LGBT groups that includes NARAL Pro-Choice America, Human Rights Campaign,, Planned Parenthood, EMILY’s List and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

“It is standard now to expect expanded health care, expect support for ‘Dreamers,’ and a woman’s right to choose,” Matt Blizek,’s election mobilization director, told The Hill. “The debate is over on some of these core values for the Democratic Party at this point.”

Blizek described the coalition behind Newman as an “unprecedented” combination of progressive and mainstream Democratic groups.

Since February, the coalition has spent more than $1.6 million on ads attacking Lipinski’s record. That push has helped Newman close the sizable gap in the polls over a few months. She was down by double digits at the beginning of the year, but is now polling essentially neck and neck with Lipinski.

Those efforts have been critical for Newman, a marketing consultant new to politics who needed to strengthen her name recognition. Lipinski is a household name in Chicago-area politics, holding a seat his father held before him.

Lipinski has sought to counter the barrage of ads from progressive groups that have framed him as at ideologically odds with his constituents. During an interview with The Hill last November, he argued that his “voting record is very much in line with my district,” while conceding “you can never please everybody.”

“There’s been a lot of money spent — almost $2 million — to try to knock me down,” Lipinski said at a St. Patrick’s Day election event over the weekend, according to USA Today.

“You know me. You know we share the same values, so I ask you to come out and vote for me. And if you don’t always take a Democratic ballot, if you can do it just this one time, for me.”

Lipinski’s campaign has been slow to swing into action, a move that some Democratic strategists in Illinois believe has hindered him. While it’s difficult to predict Tuesday night’s outcome, some point to polling that shows him under 50 percent as an ominous sign for Lipinski.

“My suspicion is that Lipinski has waited too long to do anything and hasn’t addressed this challenge as seriously as he should have,” said Thomas Bowen, a prominent Democratic strategist in Illinois who briefly consulted for Newman.

“This is not the environment where you can take a challenge lightly,” Bowen added. “This is a close race, and an incumbent is under 50 percent. That’s really bad news for Lipinski.”

Still, Lipinski has the advantage of incumbency. He also has more cash on hand than Newman, although she outraised him in recent fundraising reports.

Newman has support from the SEIU, but organized labor has otherwise largely gotten behind Lipinski, who has landed endorsements from the Illinois AFL-CIO chapter and Chicago Federation of Labor. Lipinski, a longtime member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he wants to strengthen manufacturing and opposes unfair trade agreements.

Plus, in the final stretch of the race, House Democratic leaders — including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus — rallied behind Lipinski.

When a debate over supporting candidates who don’t back abortion rights roiled the party last year, a number of leaders, including Pelosi, defended Democrats as a big-tent party, while progressives called for all Democrats to unequivocally support reproductive rights.

Lipinski has also gotten help from Susan B. Anthony List, a major anti-abortion group that typically backs Republicans.

Facing the primary challenge, Lipinski has softened his position on immigration issues after once voting against the DREAM Act.

Last November, he said he’d support a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) bill if it came up in the House. While discussing that he’d been working with lawmakers on a compromise including DACA and strengthened border security, he said he wouldn’t support a border wall, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

“To build a coalition to win back the House in November, it’s vital that Latino voters see someone who will fight for them,” Blizek said.

Beyond Tuesday’s primary, progressives argue that other Democrats with voting records like Lipinski’s should expect major pushback at the ballot box.

“Whatever the outcome tomorrow, it is clear that this district, and the country, want to elect officials who will champion our fundamental rights and freedoms — not undermine them,” Citizens For A Better Illinois, the coalition backing Newman, wrote in a Monday memo.

Tags Bernie Sanders Daniel Lipinski Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Nancy Pelosi Steny Hoyer

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