Lipinski Lives On: Conservative Democrat Survives Tough House Primary Challenge

Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call Group

Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) appears to have survived a hard-fought primary, beating back progressive challenger Marie Newman and an array of national liberal groups to hang on to his seat.

Lipinski, one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress, led Newman by a narrow margin of 51 percent to 49 percent with 97 percent of precincts counted. The Associated Press called the race shortly before 1:30 a.m. EST.

Lipinski wasn’t ready to celebrate when he took the stage Tuesday night.

“I am careful. I am an engineer,” he told supporters as he clung to a slim lead with some votes still being tabulated.

Newman, meanwhile, wasn’t in any mood to concede.

I would like Lipinski to have a very painful evening,” she declared. “So we’re gonna wait.”

But as the night wore on, Lipinski’s slim lead continued to hold, and he was up by 1,600 votes when the AP called the race.

Lipinski has bucked his party on a bevy of defining issues. He is the most vocal anti-abortion Democrat in Congress, has long opposed many gay rights issues, voted against Obamacare and, until recently, opposed the DREAM Act. A co-chairman of the fiscally conservative Democratic Blue Dog Caucus, he regularly voted against keeping House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) as his party’s leader, and even refused to endorse President Obama in his 2012 reelection bid.

That record made him vulnerable to a challenge from the left, and a coalition of national groups who’ve long been furious about his socially conservative record in a safely Democratic district saw an opening in a year with white-hot liberal enthusiasm and decided to try to take him down. NARAL Pro-Choice America, EMILY’s List, The Human Rights Campaign, SEIU and MoveOn.org combined to spend $1.6 million to boost Newman, who struggled with her own fundraising, most of that coming in the race’s final month.

She also got big-name endorsements from Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), as well as local power-brokers Reps. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL).

But those late efforts weren’t quite enough to beat Lipinski and the Chicago Democratic machine in a district they drew to include as many like-minded, blue-collar white ethnic Democrats as possible in 2012 to avoid exactly this kind of primary challenge. Lipinski was handed the seat by his father, former Rep. Bill Lipinski (D-IL), when he retired in 2004, and maintains close ties with Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan (D), the state’s longtime Democratic Party boss. Most of his margin of victory came from Chicago proper, where the old Democratic machine remains the strongest.

Lipinski had strong backing from local trade unions and the state AFL-CIO in the race, as well as the national centrist group No Labels, who helped organize a super-PAC funded by Chicago White Sox and Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf to spend heavily on his behalf. He also got a last-minute push from the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, which sent canvassers to the district to help him get out the vote.

Newman allies have suggested she may seek a rematch in 2020 against the congressman, looking to build off the name ID she cultivated in this race. But for at least two more years, the Lipinski dynasty will live on.

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