Cameron Joseph

Cameron Joseph is Talking Points Memo's senior political correspondent based in Washington, D.C. He covers Capitol Hill, the White House and the permanent campaign. Previous publications include the New York Daily News, Mashable, The Hill and National Journal. He grew up near Chicago and is an irrationally passionate Cubs fan.

Articles by Cameron

Democrats are on the verge of a major upset victory deep in Trump country, according to a new bipartisan poll shared first with TPM.

Democrat Conor Lamb leads Republican Rick Saccone by 48 percent to 44 percent in a survey conducted by RABA Research, a bipartisan firm. That would mark a huge upset in a conservative district that stretches from Pittsburgh to the West Virginia border that President Trump won by 20 points in 2016. It would give Democrats their first House special election victory of the Trump era on Tuesday night.

That marks the largest lead for Lamb seen in any public polling so far — but it’s not far from what other public and private polls have found in recent days and weeks on the race, most of which have found a margin-of-error race with Lamb having the momentum. Two other public polls of the race found each candidate with a three-point lead, and Republicans are privately sounding more than a little gloomy about Saccone’s chances on Tuesday.

Trump plans to campaign there on Saturday to try to goose GOP base turnout for Saccone, who has mightily struggled with fundraising and getting his name out there as GOP outside groups have had to pick up the slack with millions of dollars worth of TV ads. But according to the survey, the president is currently unpopular with the district’s most likely voters, with 48 percent of those saying they definitely or probably plan to vote in the race disapproving of his job performance to just 44 percent who approve. Similarly, the poll suggests a lopsided edge for Democratic enthusiasm: Though the district is fairly solidly Republican, 41 percent of those surveyed said they were Democratic and 40 percent identified as Republican.

That could be a sign that the survey’s sample is a touch too Democratic, and that its likely voter screen might be a bit too tight. But it could also be capturing the very real signs of a Democratic wave — a huge disparity in voter enthusiasm from one party to the other.

The poll of 707 interviews was conducted via an automated phone survey and an internet supplement for those who only have cell phones from March 6-8. Its margin of error is plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

The full memo is below.

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The White House is refusing to comply with a request from House Oversight Committee’s Republican chairman for information on how top staffer Rob Porter was allowed to work with an interim security clearance in spite of accusations of domestic abuse.

White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short sent a letter to House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) politely neglecting to cooperate with their demands for information on how and why Porter was allowed to continue to work as White House staff secretary, a senior position, for months after the FBI had informed senior White House staff of allegations of spousal abuse. The letter was obtained by TPM Thursday evening, shortly after the committee received it.

“Consistent with your letters’ requests, we would be pleased to update you and others on the progress of the working group at the appropriate time,” Short writes to Gowdy at the end of the letter after detailing what the White House is doing differently now on security clearance procedures, a courteous way of ignoring Gowdy’s specific requests on what the White House’s procedures were at the time and who knew what when about Porter.

The letter, included below, comes in response to a Feb. 14 letter from Gowdy demanding information on when exactly the White House was informed by the FBI about the “potential derogatory or disqualifying information” found in Porter’s background check. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders falsely claimed that the White House didn’t know of the domestic abuse allegations against Porter until just days before he was fired in February, but FBI Director Christopher Wray testified shortly afterward that the White House had been informed of the allegations multiple times last year. Officials from President Trump and Kelly on down had defended him as allegations from two ex-wives against Porter went public.

Gowdy had demanded in that letter to know when exactly the White House was informed of Porter’s problematic background, which opened him up to potential blackmail. Gowdy also asked who knew of it at what time, and why Porter was allowed to keep his interim security clearance and view highly classified information in spite of the problem. Gowdy also asked for specifics on the White House’s since-overhauled security clearance procedures and whether those procedures had been followed with Porter.

Instead of responding to those requests, Short reiterated what the White House has already publicly said about the new procedures, while ignoring Gowdy’s questions. Gowdy gave the White House two weeks to respond. The non-response comes more than a week after his deadline.

In the wake of the Porter scandal the White House revised its procedures, stripping temporary security clearances from some of the more than 100 White House staff who’d been given them, including Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, and firing or reassigning some staff because of those changes.

White House principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah told TPM that “the letter speaks for itself” and encouraged TPM to read Kelly’s public memo outlining the new procedures, declining to explain why the White House had decided against answering Gowdy’s questions and had instead referred Gowdy to the same already-public document.

Gowdy’s letter was the most aggressive he’s been towards the White House since Trump’s inauguration.

It’s unclear how he’ll react. If he so chooses, he could subpoena the information. Gowdy’s office didn’t immediately respond to questions about what his next steps would be or what he thought of the White House’s response.

When he sent the original letter in mid-February, Gowdy took the White House to task for its handling of the situation.

“I would want to know from [White House Counsel] Don McGahn and General Kelly and anyone else: What did you know, from whom did you hear it, to what extent did you hear it and then what actions, if any, did you take? The chronology is not favorable from the White House,” he told CNN at the time.

“How do you have any job if you have credible allegations of domestic abuse?” he asked, after saying he was “troubled by almost every aspect” of how the White House had responded.

The original letter Gowdy sent White House Chief of Staff John Kelly:

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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) endorsed Marie Newman in her bid to unseat Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL)  Thursday morning, making him the latest big-name liberal to oppose the conservative Lipinski’s reelection.

“Marie Newman has made it clear that she will be a champion for working families in Illinois, which is why I am proud to support her campaign,” Sanders said in a statement released by Newman’s campaign, touting her support for universal Medicare, a $15 minimum wage, legal abortion, gay rights and undocumented immigrant rights. “I am proud to stand with Marie and look forward to continuing to fight alongside her on these and other critical issues once she’s elected to Congress.”

Sanders joins Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) in backing Newman, who is giving Lipinski his toughest challenge of his 14-year career and looks like she has a good shot at defeating him in their March 20 primary.

She’s also had huge help from an array of national liberal groups irate at Lipinski for bucking Democrats on key issues from Obamacare to immigration to abortion to gay rights in his decade-plus in Congress, even though he represents a safely Democratic district. NARAL Pro-Choice America, EMILY’s List, the SEIU, the Human Rights Campaign and are all supporting Newman in the race.

Sanders won Lipinski’s district, which stretches from Chicago’s South Side into its southwestern suburbs, by 8 points in the 2016 Democratic primary. Lipinksi actually endorsed him afterwards and backed him at the Democratic National Convention, but their voting records have little in common except for a shared opposition to big trade deals.

A poll released by NARAL earlier this week found Lipinski clinging to a two-point lead over Newman in a race where he’d started out with a huge advantage.

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Firebrand Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R) officially launched his uphill campaign against Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) on Wednesday, blasting the senator as a fake conservative as he unveiled his second Senate bid.

The controversial lawmaker nearly defeated Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) four years ago in a Tea Party-fueled primary, and still maintains the was stolen from him — “It was four years ago but we still remember Mississippi, don’t we?” he said almost immediately after taking the stage on Wednesday.

Ever since then he’s been biding his time for another run, and for months debated whether to challenge Wicker or wait and see if Cochran resigns from office because of his declining health. He’d also mulled a run for lieutenant governor.

But Wicker is no Cochran – and 2018 isn’t 2014. The senator is much sharper than his aging colleague, has a huge campaign war chest, is fresh off helming the National Republican Senatorial Committee last election cycle, and doesn’t have as many policy openings for McDaniel to attack him on as Cochran did.

And unlike in 2014, when McDaniel could claim mostly unified support from the hard right, Wicker has an endorsement from President Trump — and can easily point to McDaniel’s multiple criticisms of Trump as “thin skinned” and not a “constitutional conservative” during the 2016 primary.

McDaniel peppered his speech with right-wing grievance politics, warning that Washington elites “look down on us, and they mock us,” excoriating Wicker for calling for Mississippi to remove the Confederate battle flag from its state flag, and accusing him of voting to fund Planned Parenthood (he’s long voted against federal funding for the organization).

And he nodded to Trump’s endorsement, pointing out the president also recently backed Mitt Romney and one of Jeb Bush’s sons while arguing that he needed more conservatives so he wouldn’t have to cut as many deals.

“Thank god for President Trump, he’s made Roger Wicker a conservative for about three weeks,” he joked.

But while Trump’s endorsement may not be enough alone to boost Wicker to a win — it certainly wasn’t for Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL) — McDaniel’s earlier criticisms of the president could do him much as they did in Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), who also lost that Alabama primary.

“Well, it’s all downhill from there,” McDaniel joked as he took the stage in Ellisville, Mississippi on Wednesday to roars from his die-hard supporters.

It just might be.


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Democrat Conor Lamb has raised an impressive $3.2 million since the beginning of 2018 in his upstart bid to win a heavily Republican House seat outside of Pittsburgh, he announced Tuesday.

That’s the type of fundraising haul House Democratic candidates could only dream about in past years, and explains how he’s been able to keep close in his bid to win a seat left vacant when scandal-plagued Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) resigned last year.

The haul isn’t much compared to the whopping $23.6 million John Ossoff raised in his failed bid for Georgia’s Sixth District, the most ever raised by a House candidate by a wide margin, or the $22 million Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) brought in during his eight-month campaign to defeat former Judge Roy Moore. But it’s more than enough to keep him in the game even as GOP outside groups deluge the district with ads and national Democrats mostly steer clear of public help for his bid.

Lamb has been almost even with Pennsylvania state Rep. Rick Saccone (R) in most recent public and private polls shared with TPM, and has a real shot at pulling off Democrats’ first big House special election upset of the Trump era in two weeks.

While the biggest problem for Republicans is how revved up the Democratic base is right now, Republicans also privately admit that Democrats simply have the better candidate. Lamb has an impressive personal biography, and Saccone has badly struggled to raise enough money for the campaign. President Trump’s own numbers aren’t that bad in a district he carried by 20 points — which is why Saccone has been bear-hugging the president in the race. But a loss in this race would be a blow to Republicans, and a sign that their somewhat revived hopes of avoiding a 2018 campaign bloodbath based on some marginally better poll numbers since the new year may not be so well-founded.

While Republican outside groups have spent millions to tear down Lamb, because candidates get TV advertising at much lower cost the candidates’ own fundraising matters greatly. As the Cook Political Report’s Amy Walter points out, even though Lamb and his allies have been badly outspent by Saccone and his allies, Lamb’s own ads have been on the air a lot more than Saccone’s — and he’s been able to hang in there in total fundraising.

Both candidates are expected to get a big boost in the coming days from outside support. Trump is looking to reschedule a campaign rally for Saccone before the election that he canceled in the wake of the recent Florida school shooting, while former Vice President Joe Biden is expected to be in town for Lamb next week.

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Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) has ended his Hamlet act and decided once and for all not to run for reelection, his chief of staff said in a statement, a move that eliminates the possibility of a brutal primary between him and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and likely boosts Republicans’ chances of holding the seat.

Corker had announced his retirement last fall, leading to swift announcements from Blackburn and former Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN) that they’d run for his seat. But earlier this month he pulled a surprising about-face, floating the idea that he might run again after all as his allies questioned whether Blackburn’s flaws might put the seat at risk for the GOP.

But his backtrack didn’t play particularly well with many GOP voters in the state. Corker’s past criticism of President Trump had hurt him with the party base, and a number of polls conducted by Blackburn allies made it clear she’d have a solid edge over the two-term senator should he decide to run again. While Fincher dropped out of the race to make room for Corker, Blackburn made it clear she wasn’t going anywhere as her team blasted away at the senator for his indecisiveness.

Corker’s team argued he could have won, but decided against a bid.

“Over the past several months, Senator Corker has been encouraged by people across Tennessee and in the Senate to reconsider his decision not to seek re-election. Based on the outpouring of support, we spent the last few days doing our due diligence and a clear path for re-election was laid out,”Corker Chief of Staff Todd Womack said a statement emailed to TPM. “However, at the end of the day, the senator believes he made the right decision in September and will be leaving the Senate when his term expires at the end of 2018.”

Corker’s latest decision was first reported by Politico.

Corker likely would have needed a hearty endorsement from President Trump to have a real shot at defeating Blackburn — and he made efforts to cozy up to the president in recent months after publicly worrying about Trump’s leadership last summer. But that endorsement didn’t seem forthcoming, and while Senate GOP leaders like Corker they had already moved on to backing Blackburn after his initial retirement, leading to frustration about his back-and-forth.

Even some of Corker’s closest allies were quick to tout Blackburn in the wake of his decision.

“Bob Corker is a terrific United States senator and a good friend. I was disappointed in his decision not to run for reelection but respect that decision. I invited Marsha Blackburn to breakfast this morning. We had a good discussion about a variety of issues that we both care about and how we might work together to make the Senate a more effective institution,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who is close to both Corker and GOP Senate leaders, said in a statement.

Some Republicans continue to worry Blackburn’s hardline conservatism and her backing of a deal that helped the pharmaceutical industry and critics say hurt efforts to fight opioid addiction make her a risky choice for the nomination, especially since Democrats landed a strong recruit in former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) for the race in the conservative state. But Corker’s dithering and eventual decision may have helped her in the race by clearing the primary field for Blackburn and eliminating the chance that a tough primary would hurt her chances at victory.

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Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R) has scheduled a Wednesday rally, sources close to the controversial lawmaker tell TPM, and is reportedly expected to run against Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) after months of consideration.

“McDaniel will do a rally on Wednesday,” one source close to his campaign told TPM. And while that source and others in his orbit wouldn’t confirm or deny Politico’s report that he’s “expected to run,” and McDaniel didn’t reply to text messages, it seems highly probable that he’d be using his rally at the Jones County Junior College Wednesday afternoon to say challenge Wicker, rather than that he’s decided against it.

The controversial lawmaker staged a Tea Party revolt against Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) four years ago, nearly toppling the veteran lawmaker in the primary, a race he maintains was stolen from him. Ever since then he’s been biding his time for another run, and for months debated whether to challenge Wicker or wait and see if Cochran resigns from office due to ongoing health issues. He’d also mulled a run for lieutenant governor. But he’s run out of time to decide, with a campaign filing deadline just days away.

On Sunday night, McDaniel said in a Facebook post that he’d “have some important information to share about our political future” in a Monday night Facebook Live event. Sources say that will be to tout the rally.

Unlike Cochran, who was clearly showing his age that election and had a long history of pork-barrel legislation that opened him up to a right-wing challenge, Wicker is both a much sharper and energized campaigner (his team helped Cochran win that election and he ran the National Republican Senatorial Committee last election cycle) and one who hasn’t given McDaniel as many openings to attack him from the right.

Wicker didn’t wait for McDaniel’s announcement to take a subtle swipe at him, launching a campaign ad with one of McDaniel’s 2014 supporters endorsing him:

McDaniel is a highly controversial figure with a long history of charged statements on race, religion and gender. He made headlines last year for attacking the women’s march, claiming that “almost all liberal women are unhappy.” In older comments McDaniel blamed hip-hop for gun violence, attacked Muslims, threatened to stop paying taxes if Congress authorized slavery reparations and said one of the only useful Spanish words he knew was “mamacita,” an apparent joke about cat-calling Hispanic women.

Just weeks ago, as TPM reported, he joined the radio show of an ardent conspiracy theorist who believes the 9/11 attacks may have been carried out by the “World Zionist Organization.”

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The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) moved yesterday to nuke a candidate in Texas that it sees as a bad ideological fit for the district. Progressive favorite Laura Moser has too much baggage (and carpetbaggage), the DCCC claimed. The attack infuriated many on the left — and had some Republicans feeling deja vu.

The GOP establishment has struggled for years with what to do about upstart challengers who have primary appeal but who, because of ideological extremism or personal flaws, might blow a general election. That goes back to the fringe campaigns of people like Christine “I’m Not A Witch” O’Donnell and Sharron Angle in 2010, Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin in 2012, and continues through recent months (see: Moore, Roy).

The GOP establishment has at times stood up to whack down these candidates — easier said than done, as Moore proved. In other cases it has taken a more hands-off approach. Now, the Democratic establishment feels the need to figure out its own strategy to deal with candidates that it thinks are uncompetitive.

According to a former staffer to Mitt Romney and  Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), the Democrats “are having their tea party moment.”

This isn’t the first time the Democratic establishment has had to play candidate whack-a-mole. They spent millions to defeat former Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) in his Senate primary last year (a decision that, in hindsight, may not have been worth it — establishment favorite Katie McGinty failed to defeat Republican Pat Toomey and proved to be a mediocre candidate herself). They’ve also played favorites among other Democrats in House primaries, as I laid out in my story today on Moser, with mixed results. But these days, after the Hillary Clinton-Bernie Sanders DNC blowup, things are just a little bit more sensitive.

Plenty of Democrats weren’t happy with the DCCC’s moves against Moser — including some with deep ties to the establishment.

But as Republicans can attest, there’s no easy solution for the party establishment when it dislikes a candidate that appeals to the base.

And there’s a risk that the DCCC’s attack on Moser, which even some former DCCC staff told TPM was “ham-handed,” could backfire. Part of why then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) lost a primary shocker to now-Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA) was because he panicked and ran bad ads looking to destroy Brat. They had the opposite effect, elevating Brat’s name recognition in the district.

Only time will tell whether the DCCC made the right call in going after Moser (and attacking her in the way they did) — and it remains to be seen if it will use the same approach with other candidates it dislikes going forward. But the DCCC has to weigh its tactics carefully. Control of the House may depend on it.

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Is the DCCC grappling with a tea-party-in-reverse problem? Read a reporter’s notebook post (Prime access) on this story »

House Democrats’ official campaign committee took a very public swipe at one of its own candidates Thursday night, a sign that it’s willing to risk fury from its base to push forward what it sees as the best general-election nominees.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) posted damaging research on Laura Moser, a favorite of progressives running in a crowded primary who national Democrats worry would cost them a shot at defeating Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) this fall.

The move is by far the most aggressive and public stance the DCCC has taken this cycle against one of its own, a risky move given the current tensions between parts of the liberal base and the party establishment but one they argue is necessary given Moser’s flaws. While party operatives have signaled for months that they’d step in to block candidates they see as unelectable, this shows how much they’re willing to risk the wrath of the left to do so — not just in Texas, which holds the nation’s first primaries, but throughout the coming year as the battle for the House heats up.

“We’ve gotten involved in primaries in the past when there’s a disqualified general election candidate and have noted all cycle we might need to do that again,” DCCC Communications Director Meredith Kelly told TPM Friday morning, arguing the committee was stepping up to help make sure local activists’ efforts weren’t squandered with a flawed candidate. “This potential involvement in primaries is about ensuring voters have a fighting chance to flip these districts in November. These people have been fighting all year organizing against Republican incumbents and we don’t want to rob them of the opportunity to be competitive in November.”

Those decisions are risky ones, threatening to infuriate liberal activists locally and nationally as the party is seen strong-arming locals and picking favorites, potentially the party with a split base heading into the general election. This year, Democrats have a glut of candidates in many top races, a good problem to have but one that risks letting flawed candidates sneak through with a plurality of the vote and blow winnable races.

The DCCC’s move left many liberals livid.

“In this vital year, with so much at stake, the DCCC should be using their limited resources to go after Republicans, not peddle false and misleading garbage against a progressive Democratic woman who has been an outspoken leader in the resistance. It is hard see how the DCCC thinks turning its own voters against each other is a winning strategy,” Political Action Executive Director Ilya Sheyman told TPM.

The move could also backfire by elevating the very candidates the DCCC wants to stop.

“The DCCC just managed to get a lot more people into this race for Laura,” Progressive Change Campaign Committee head Adam Green told TPM.

On the flip side, national Democrats don’t think they can stay pat — they’ve stayed out of past races where they saw one candidate as their best chance, had another get the nomination and then blow a potentially winnable race.

“Which backlash is worse? Neither of these is a good option,” one former top DCCC staffer who’s grappled with this dilemma in the past told TPM. “The question is which option is less bad — upsetting the apple cart now or ending up with a nominee you don’t think can win in November. If they’re right that this is essential to winning this seat, then they have to do something. But I don’t know if they’re right.”

Another former top DCCC staffer warned that while stopping flawed candidates was necessary, this particular move was “ham-handed” in its execution.

“It’s a hell of a risk,” said the staffer of the public opposition research dump, pointing out that other DCCC-backed candidates were also carpetbaggers and warning the move opened up the party to criticism. “It’s got the subtlety and nuance of a barbarian horde.”

The DCCC has already been heavily involved in recruiting candidates and quietly picking favorites in some districts — like convincing Lexington Mayor Jim Gray to challenge Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY) after former fighter pilot Amy McGrath (D) raised big money with a viral announcement video. Four candidates the committee has endorsed have primary challengers that have raised at least $100,000: Those running for the top-targeted seats held by Reps. Rod Blum (R-IA), Mike Coffman (R-CO), Leonard Lance (R-NJ) Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ). California will prove especially problematic: The top two candidates of any party advance to the general election in that state, and Democrats have blown races in the past as two Republicans have advanced in winnable districts. That’s a risk for the party in four different key races.

The last time the DCCC got this aggressively involved in a primary was in 2014, when they tore down former Rep. Joe Baca (D-CA) to make sure that didn’t happen again in a district now held by Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-CA).

National Democrats have long worried Moser’s progressive views could prove disqualifying in a traditionally Republican suburban district that Hillary Clinton narrowly carried in 2016, but Mitt Romney won by 20 points four years earlier.

The committee highlights that she just moved back to the Houston-area district from Washington, D.C., recently claimed a homestead tax credit for her D.C. home, her campaign has paid her husband’s consulting firm to work on her race, and in a 2014 Washingtonian article wrote that she’d “rather have my teeth pulled out without anesthesia” than live in rural Texas.

Moser fired back against the DCCC attacks Thursday night.

“We’re used to tough talk here in Texas, but it’s disappointing to hear it from Washington operatives trying to tell Texans what to do. These kind of tactics are why people hate politics. The days when party bosses picked the candidates in their smoke filled rooms are over. DC needs to let Houston vote,” she said in a statement.

The DCCC’s gambit here may not even work, as the party has made similar moves in past years with mixed results. In 2012, the committee tried to push party leaders’ favored candidate past left-wing physician David Gill when he first ran against Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL). Gill still won the nomination, the DCCC belatedly came back in to help him after realizing he had a path to victory, and he ended up losing that race by a narrow margin. Gill is running again this year (his sixth run for Congress) against two candidates national Democrats would vastly prefer to see nominated. He’s raised almost no money this time around, but has a fervent if small base and is the type of candidate they may decide they need to try and block in the coming months. Another victim of national party involvement was Sheyman, who the party blocked in favor of now-Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL).

And they saw stronger candidates lose primaries in winnable races in recent years against Rep. Pat Meehan (R-PA) and in the swing district once represented by former Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and now held by his brother Brian.

“Better to be a jerk than a loser,” a Democratic strategist who’s doing some work with the DCCC this cycle told TPM.

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Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) has spent his career sticking his fingers in the eyes of progressives, vocally bucking his party on everything from abortion to Obamacare to gay rights, with few repercussions. In less than a month, they have their first real chance to strike back.

The congressman has long been able to get away with a laundry list of conservative votes in his seven terms in Congress and has avoided a real primary challenge for years, aided by close ties to Chicago’s powerful old-school Democratic machine.

But in the year of red-hot Democratic activism, the #MeToo movement and brutal urban and suburban backlash against President Trump , those old-guard powers are facing a reckoning. And just weeks ahead of Illinois’ March 20 primary, the congressman is coping with perhaps his biggest political threat since his father, longtime Rep. Bill Lipinski (D-IL), retired and anointed him his successor in 2004.

Marie Newman, a former advertising executive, anti-bullying and gun control advocate is gunning for his seat — and has won a number of endorsements from heavy-hitting liberal groups.

“There is a definite path to victory for her, where in past primaries I haven’t really seen that materialize. I think this is a good year in that district for a real Democrat, and a woman. This is going to be a very good year for women,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), who endorsed Newman in what she told TPM is the first time she’s ever campaigned against another sitting Democratic congressman. “There’s this sense of unity, of being off the sidelines, in the fray, going to vote, and all of that significantly plays into the energy around her candidacy.”

Marie Newman, candidate for Congress in IL-03, speaks during an event to receive the endorsement of Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), in Washington on Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The younger Lipinski has followed in his father’s footsteps in carving a fairly conservative record, especially on social issues. A co-chairman of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, he’s one of only three remaining House Democrats who voted against the Affordable Care Act. He’s regularly stood against legislation backed by gay rights groups, long opposed gay marriage and is one of the only House Democrats who opposes the Equality Act, a bill that would offer LGBTQ Americans protections against discrimination in housing and employment. He supported the war in Iraq, has regularly voted against keeping House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) as party leader, and only recently switched to supporting the DREAM Act. He also recently had to walk back comments opposing unions’ long-sought push for a $15 minimum wage.

But his biggest and most vocal apostasy to liberals has been his steadfast opposition to abortion. A devout Catholic, he’s long served as the co-chairman of the Pro-Life Caucus and has regularly voted with Republicans to defund Planned Parenthood and ban most legal abortion.

Liberal organizations have fumed for years over his votes and views, especially since he holds a district that both Hillary Clinton and President Obama carried by roughly 15 points. But Lipinski easily defeated early primary challengers with the support of one of the country’s few remaining powerful Democratic machines. Party boss and Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan (D) then gifted him a personalized gerrymander that stretched the 3rd District from his and Lipinski’s base in Chicago’s South Side into whiter, more socially conservative southwestern suburbs after 2010, possibly at the expense of drawing another gerrymandered Democratic district. He hasn’t faced a real challenge since.

But Newman has shown herself to be a capable candidate, with decent if less-than-dazzling fundraising figures, and she has the backing of some of the left’s most powerful groups. She has support from the pro-abortion rights NARAL Pro-Choice America, EMILY’s List and Planned Parenthood Action Fund,, and the Service Employees International Union, as well as Schakowsky, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).

“The Lipinski monarchy supported by the Chicago machine has continued because nobody’s had the time or resources to do this,” Newman told TPM last week. “We’ve had 36 years of Lipinskis, and everyone’s pretty clear they’re completely out of touch with the district.”

In recent days, outside groups said they’d put their money where their mouths are with a combined $1 million in TV, digital and print advertising attacking Lipinski’s record on social issues, Obamacare and immigration and tying him to President Trump.

“You can’t fight Trump when you agree with him. It’s time for Dan Lipinski to go,” both of the groups’ ads conclude.

Newman needs that help: She had just $237,000 in the bank as of Jan. 1 to his $1.65 million war chest, not enough by itself to give him a serious challenge in a district that’s squarely within Chicago’s expensive media market.

Even with all the groups gunning for him, Lipinski doesn’t seem to think he’s in much trouble in the safely Democratic district.

“I’m not sure why anyone believes this is going to be a close race to begin with,” he told TPM in a phone interview last week, pointing to an internal poll conducted for his campaign in late January that had him up by more than 30 points.

Lipinski acknowledged that the progressive base is spoiling for a fight with the president, and was quick to tout votes against Obamacare repeal and the GOP tax plan, his longtime support for gun control, environmental protections and his endorsement from the AFL-CIO. But he argued that Democrats shouldn’t cast out moderates like himself.

“It’s understandable that people are as incensed by Trump as I am, the things he has done and said. It’s important, though, that we do not form a Tea Party of the left, I think that’s detrimental to the party,” he said. “We’re in a position where we’re down 24 seats in the House, we’ve lost 1000 seats across the country since 2010, and we need to make sure we’re a big tent party, not closing down. That’s not good.”

Lipinski largely ignored Newman’s repeated barbs Wednesday night during their only scheduled debate, only firing back when she criticized his views on gay rights and abortion.

Religious freedom is under attack,” he warned, saying he now accepts gay marriage as the “law of the land” but arguing that churches and religious organizations shouldn’t be forced to honor it or pay for contraception.

But the congressman does seem to be acting a bit skittish as of late. He called for nonpartisan redistricting during the debate, which Newman was quick to point out for its hypocrisy given his earlier gerrymandering. His reversal on the DREAM Act is a sign he knows the position is untenable in a district with a fast-growing Hispanic population. And while he hasn’t shied away from defending his pro-life views during the campaign, he backed out of a scheduled speech at the national March for Life last month at the last minute.

“I did not want to be up onstage with Donald Trump speaking,” he said. “But a lot of the issues we’re voting on when it comes to abortion are things the majority of Americans, even the majority of Democrats agree with – the Born Alive Infant Protection Act we voted on in January, even the ban on abortion at 20 weeks, national polls show there’s a majority of Democrats who support that. It’s my opponent who has the radical position on this.”

He’s also looked to bolster his standing as with women in recent months. Lipinski’s State of the Union guest this year was Faith Ann Rys, a clinical therapist who treats female victims of sexual assault. Even as he spoke at the Chicago March for Life last month, he worked in a nod to the #MeToo movement.

“We have heard so many stories over the last year. They’ve been horrible stories about assault, harassment, and terrible mistreatment of women. And when this happens it scars all of us. We all, everyone needs to stand up for the dignity of every single individual, every single woman, man, and especially the most vulnerable, the child in the womb. That is what we do everyday int he pro-life movement,” he said onstage.


That effort was a dealt a blow in recent days, however. Madigan has become embroiled in his own scandal, accused of protecting a number of longtime aides who harassed female staffers, and Lipinski was just about the only Democrat who stood up to defend his old friend.

Most local Democrats think Lipinski still has the edge in the contest, where the primary winner will face an avowed Neo-Nazi in the general election. But they think Newman’s chances look better every day. And if she doesn’t pull off an upset this time around, they hope she’ll take another shot next election.

“Although I think she has a wonderful opportunity now, laying the groundwork for 2020 is wonderful,” said Gutierrez.

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