Anti-Abortion Dem Rep’s 2018 Primary Foe Gearing Up For Another Run

U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski on March 21, 2018, at Flagg Creek Country Club in Countryside, Ill. (Kristen Norman/Chicago Tribune/TNS)
Kristen Norman/Tribune News Service
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The woman who nearly defeated one of Congress’s most conservative Democrats last year is moving towards a likely rematch, she told TPM on Tuesday.

Businesswoman and activist Marie Newman came just over 2,000 votes short of defeating Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) in a 2018 primary that pitted a number of national progressive groups against Lipinksi’s union allies and Chicago’s Democratic machine.

Newman is now gearing up for another shot at the congressman, and plans to make a final decision on a run sometime in the early spring.

We’re going through a formal exploratory process and meeting with constituents throughout the district. I’m looking at a time frame that’s looking like two to three months,” she told TPM. “Personally, my family and I are ready to go. On a political and constituency level, I want to make sure we’re still in alignment. I believe we are.”

That would set up a rematch after a heated primary last cycle left some bad blood in both Illinois and national Democratic circles. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and then-Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) both endorsed Newman over Lipinski, an almost unheard-of move for members of a congressional delegation. Some of Lipinski’s allies in the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democratic coalition were furious that the House Democrats’ campaign arm, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, didn’t endorse Lipinski until just before the primary.

Lipinski is one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress, and holds a safe Democratic seat based in Chicago’s South Side and its southwest suburbs that Hillary Clinton carried by 15 percentage points in 2016. The district was intentionally drawn by his allies to include as many culturally conservative lunchpail Democrats as possible, but after nearly a decade, it’s grown increasingly diverse and the party base has moved left. Many Democratic base voters don’t see eye-to-eye with Lipinski on certain issues.

The congressman has long been a staunch opponent of abortion, co-chairing the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus and voting repeatedly to defund Planned Parenthood. Last Friday, he was the lone Democratic member of Congress to speak at the March for Life rally in Washington, D.C.

That was a change: Lipinski backed out from speaking at the national rally last year, during the heat of the primary fight.

Newman told TPM that his decision to return to the national March for Life, after skipping the D.C. event last year, showed a lack of backbone.

“In a non-election year he feels free to speak at the March for Life and hold dear to what he believes, and in an election year he all of a sudden doesn’t believe in those beliefs. Which is it?” she said.

Lipinski, who has served for more than a decade since he took the seat from his father, ranked as the seventh-most conservative Democrat in the Almanac of American Politics’ 2017 vote ratings.

His voting record prompted a bevy of Democratic groups to back Newman in the 2018 primary. The pro-choice Planned Parenthood Action Fund, EMILY’s List, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the pro-LGBTQ Human Rights Campaign, MoveOn.org, and the Service Employees International Union all endorsed her last time.

But Newman failed to impress some allies with her fundraising last cycle in spite of all the help she got. And she didn’t do herself any favors by refusing to concede on election night.

“I would like Mr. Lipinski to have a very painful evening,” she said in her election night speech. “So we are going to wait.”

That made her allies wince, and Newman told TPM that she regrets the statement.

I did not use the best phraseology that evening and I feel badly about that,” she said. “I feel badly the people in the room and the public had to hear that. I would not choose those words again.”

Lipinski fired back at Newman in a Tuesday statement to TPM, blasting her for her election-night refusal to concede.

“I would be surprised if Marie Newman runs again after her angry, mean-spirited speech on TV on election night. Especially in the age of Donald Trump, a lot of Democrats were turned off by that,” Lipinski said. “I will be running for re-election, but right now I’m focused on working in the new Democratic House to deliver relief for middle class families with better job opportunities, improved infrastructure, more affordable health care and college education, safer gun laws, and lower taxes.”

Local Democrats tell TPM that Lipinski is much better prepared for a challenge after getting caught sleeping last cycle by the late blitz from national Democratic groups. But this year’s primary electorate is also bound to look much different, as the presidential primary will likely drive higher turnout. That could be problematic for Lipinski, who relied on a heavy get-out-the-vote effort from his local union allies and the Democratic machine to overcome Newman in 2018.

Abortion isn’t the only issue where Lipinski splits from most Democrats.

He opposed gay marriage long after most other Democrats, though says it’s now settled law, and is one of the only House Democrats who opposes legislation that would ban housing and employment discrimination against the LGBTQ community. He split with Democrats on some key Iraq War votes, and didn’t support the DREAM Act until recent years.

Lipinski also didn’t back Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) as party leader in each of the last four congressional sessions, though he did vote for her on the floor after opposing her in caucus in 2016 and backed her again in 2018 after she made some minor concessions to moderate Democrats on House rules changes.

It’s unclear whether Newman will be as much of a threat this time. Lipinski is more prepared, continues to have strong support in parts of the community, and hasn’t given progressives as many new votes to be furious about in recent years. But if Newman can build on her past campaign and national progressive groups come to her aide once again, Lipinski could be in for the race of his life.

This story was updated to for clarity to more accurately reflect Lipinksi’s positions.

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